There are always two ways for the Lakers to momentarily wash away an otherwise dour season.
There have been so many critiques — shot selection continually attacked, accuracy analyzed ad nauseam and even his missed free throws under siege after a late-game collapse against Minnesota.
There could be nothing short of praise for Bryant after the Lakers’ 129-122 overtime victory Sunday against the Toronto Raptors.
His game was nearly flawless, his numbers showed a triple-double and he became the first player in NBA history with 30,000 career points and 6,000 assists, gliding over the latter plateau with a third-quarter pass to Wesley Johnson that led to a successful 12-footer.
“It’s a huge honor. It means I pass more than people say,” Bryant said after accumulating 31 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds at Staples Center.
The most important number could not be overlooked amid the backdrop: 36 years old.
Bryant shoved the momentum firmly toward the Lakers with a three-point play, making a 15-footer while moving left and getting fouled by James Johnson with 2:23 left in overtime.
Before shooting the free throw, Bryant took a long walk toward the other basket and pounded his chest with his right fist before heading back to the free-throw line.
“It’s crazy,” said Wesley Johnson, who had 13 points. “Especially seeing how he’s doing it. He’s still going at it. It’s not like he’s slow-footed or he still can’t get to the rim. He’s starting to play like his old self. This is definitely going to be something to tell my kids.”
Bryant made 11 of 24 shots (45.8%), an upgrade from the 38.8% he showed coming into the game.
He also had a highlight play in the fourth quarter, losing Terrence Ross with a crossover on the baseline, stepping back and draining a 17-footer while drawing a foul on Ross.
“There’s a lot left in that tank. It’s obvious,” said Lakers Coach Byron Scott.
The Lakers (4-13) are now 1-13 against the Western Conference and 3-0 against the considerably weaker East. They start a three-game East trip Tuesday in Detroit.
Back to Bryant, as usual.
Despite the convergence of points and assists Sunday, Bryant’s career will certainly be known more for scoring than passing.
“One’s more in your control than the other. I prefer things to be under my control,” he said.
At the same time, he acknowledged the importance of passing to teammates.
“It means guys are playing with confidence. They’re more involved,” he said. “They emotionally feel better. They get more excited and more into the game. It makes the game more enjoyable.”
There hasn’t been a lot of joy for the Lakers. Or Bryant on a team that was 1-8 at home before Sunday and still stuck at the bottom of the West.
“You know the saying, ‘Happy wife, happy life?’” Bryant said. “If I’m upset, everybody is going to have a bad day.”
For once, the Lakers weren’t dealing with injury fallout, something Toronto (13-4) had to bear after DeMar DeRozan’s serious groin tear two days earlier. Kyle Lowry tried to cover the loss of DeRozan’s 19.4 points a game by contributing 29 points and nine assists.
The Lakers were incredibly efficient in the first half, Bryant in particular. He made all four of his shots and handed out eight assists as the Lakers shot 57.1% and took a 58-49 edge into the locker room.
“I loved the way he played the first half,” Scott said. “I thought he made a conscious effort to get everybody involved.”
It was just the beginning of a special night for Bryant. For the Lakers too, considering the dearth of victories so far.