Kobe Bryant’s long awaited return to the court began as a wild celebration on Sunday, but ended as a quiet reminder that the rusty All-Star has more work ahead to get back to his brilliant best.
Bryant made his highly anticipated season debut in front of a frenzied Staples Center crowd, showing hints of his old form, but mostly looking out of sorts as the Lakers were defeated by the Toronto Raptors 106-94.
In his first NBA action since he tore his left Achilles in April, the 35-year-old Bryant tested his surgically repaired foot during 28 minutes that saw him record nine points, eight rebounds and eight turnovers.
The Lakers’ all-time leading scorer made just two of nine shots and conceded that Sunday’s return was just the first of many hurdles to come.
“I’m still feeling it out a little bit. My rhythm is completely out of sync,” Bryant told reporters. “It’s a start. The last time I had eight months off, I was still in the womb.”
Looking less explosive than usual, Bryant picked his spots carefully and was more of a willing passer than aggressive shooter.
He missed his first couple of shots and did not register a point until converting a free-throw with 6 minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the first half.
By then, the Lakers (10-10) were playing from behind and trailed the entire game, during which Bryant was not only trying to catch up to Toronto (7-12), but to his new teammates as well.
Elsewhere in the league, Boston’s Jordan Crawford scored 23 points as the Celtics had the most-lopsided victory in the NBA this season, battering the New York Knicks 114-73.
In Auburn Hills, Michigan, LeBron James had 24 points, nine assists and seven rebounds as the Miami Heat cruised past the Pistons 110-95, avenging a home loss to Detroit less than a week ago.
In Sunday’s other games, the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Indiana Pacers 118-94 after Kevin Durant had 36 points and 10 rebounds, while Dwight Howard celebrated his 28th birthday with 20 points and 22 rebounds in the Houston Rockets’ 98-88 win over the Orlando Magic.