The Memphis Grizzlies put a dent in the Lakers’ giddiness since acquiring Ramon Sessions, but there was a bigger story Sunday — the curious case of Kobe Bryant.
He sat for four of the last six minutes in the Lakers’ 102-96 loss, his chin tucked under his left hand at the end of the bench for most of it.
During a late timeout, he walked out of the Lakers’ huddle while coaches were diagraming a play. He has done that in past games, sometimes even sitting on the padded part of the scorer’s table, though this time he stood near the top of the key.
He never seemed to find a rhythm after scoring only 18 points on seven-for-15 shooting. He had seven points in the first half.
He was taken out of the game with 5:45 to play and the Lakers down, 93-79. He re-entered with 1:51 to play and the Lakers still trailing, 98-89.
In between, a lot happened at Staples Center.
“Where’s Kobe?!” a fan yelled. Then came a “Ko-be, Ko-be” chant from some fans.
Bryant got up and headed to the scorer’s table at one point but returned to the bench after realizing there would be a timeout with the next whistle.
“I felt I wanted to make a sub at the time so I did,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. “Not one particular thing. Went with Metta [World Peace] for a couple minutes and then tried to go back to him. Obviously it didn’t work.”
Bryant was relatively quiet after the game, neither smoldering nor smiling as he spoke about Brown.
“It’s his decision to make,” Bryant said. “If you guys are looking for a story, I’m not going to contribute to it. I can’t sit here and criticize the decision. As leader of this ball club, it’s something I can’t afford to do. I’ve got to have his back. I’ve had his back the whole season. I can’t start doing something crazy now. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Brown said he “probably won’t” discuss it with Bryant.
“I treat him the same as everybody most of the time,” Brown said. “Obviously he’s a superstar. And when you have superstars, you try to give them some leeway because they’ve been there and done that. But if I make a sub for somebody I don’t feel like I always have to go explain to them why I made a sub.”
Said center Andrew Bynum: “I have no idea what was going on. Obviously, it was something [coaches] wanted to prove. You should ask those guys about it.”
The Grizzlies (26-21) weren’t exactly the NBA’s hottest team, having lost six of eight and gotten walloped by the Clippers the previous day, 101-85.
They averaged 95.1 points before Sunday but shot 52.1%, led by Rudy Gay (18 points) and O.J. Mayo (16 points).
Bynum had 30 points, though frontcourt mate Pau Gasol wasn’t as sharp, scoring 16 points on four-for-15 shooting.
Earlier in the day, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak told a group of about 1,000 season-ticket holders that the team had a good enough bench to help win a championship. He added, however, that one of the reserves might need to have a “special” performance at some point in the playoffs.
There wasn’t anything special about the Lakers’ reserves Sunday. Not even close. They were outscored by the Grizzlies’ backups, 41-9, but it looked like the least of the Lakers’ problems.