The Los Angeles Lakers began the night in the thick of the playoff chase for the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference.
With the Lakers leading the Utah Jazz by a half games for the eighth spot, all eyes were focused on earning a crucial victory tonight against an always tough Golden State Warriors squad.
By the end of the night, with victory sealed, the Lakers’ mindset shifted dramatically: how to move on without shooting guard Kobe Bryant.
The future Hall of Fame shooting guard suffered a devastating torn Achilles with roughly three minutes remaining in the contest while attempting to drive past Warriors forward Harrison Barnes.
It was the third time in the second half that Bryant appeared to injure himself in the second half. Lakers’ head coach Mike D’Antoni opted to keep Bryant in the game even though it was rather obvious the guard was headed downhill fast.
Bryant was able to walk off the first injury and appeared to be fine following that initial scare. However, the seventeen-year veteran went down a second time and was not able to walk with the same fluidity that he was before.
At this time, D’Antoni should have taken the responsibility to remove Bryant from the game, no matter the circumstances. Knowing Bryant’s intense competitiveness — which has been compared to Hall of Famer Michael Jordan — the guard would have most likely objected, however there is no excuse for not removing him from the game.
Despite the circumstances of Los Angeles being in an extremely close playoff race, there is no viable excuse. Even if the Lakers were to lose against the Warriors, there are still two games left on the Lakers’ schedule, the race for eighth would have been a tie at the worst case scenario, and it would have obviously been better for Bryant in the long run.
As it stands now, Los Angeles did earn the hard-fought victory, keeping then one game ahead of the Jazz for the eighth position, however the Lakers lost the heart and soul of their team in Kobe Bryant, a big part of that due to D’Antoni frankly dramatically overusing their superstar. This injury could have dire consequences as well, as Bryant is 34 years old and in his seventeenth season in the NBA. Can Bryant return from this injury?
A return from this injury will take the heart of a warrior, and if anyone in the NBA can accomplish that at this stage of his career, it would be Bryant.
Regardless though, this is a disastrous injury for Kobe Bryant and an egregiously reckless and irresponsible decision by D’Antoni to not take Bryant out of the game.