The story line around the NBA was that tonight NBA superstar Kobe Bryant would play in his Lakers season debut following his surprisingly quick rehab from Achilles tendon surgery. By game time, a new story line had emerged as details about a 7 player trade between the Raptors and the Kings meant Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy would not be available to Toronto at game time.
Where Jodie Meeks was bumped from the starting lineup to accommodate Bryant, the Raptors replaced Gay with Landry Fields. The 10-9 Lakers were also missing center Chris Kaman, but they had won without him before. Gay had started every game for Toronto so far this season.
While there was plenty of speculation about the impact of these 2 major changes to each teams’ lineup, no one really knew what to expect, but it was the 6-12 Toronto Raptors racing out to a 15-4 lead that the Lakers could never quite overcome. In the end it was a 106-94 win for the visiting Raptors.
Many people hoped to see the Bryant of old in his first game back, but we were cautioned, even warned about expectations and Kobe looked rusty. His timing was off and despite a few very sweet passes, it was quickly obvious even Bryant can’t get back into NBA game-shape with a few practices after 8 months off.
Bryant finished with 9 points on 2-9 shooting, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 8 pretty bad looking turnovers.
This game belonged to Amir Johnson. Johnson had 13 points in the first quarter, 10 points in the second quarter and finished the game with a career high 32 points on 14-17 shooting to which he added 10 boards, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Against the relatively soft front court of the Lakers, Johnson owned the paint and faced little to no resistance.
Johnson was supported by strong games from the Raptors remaining top 2 scorers. Kyle Lowry had 23 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals in his third 20 point game in a row. DeMar DeRozan had a strong fourth quarter as he piled in 26 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots.
In a strange twist of fate, no one in the Lakers starting unit scored in double-digits, but all 5 subs did led by Nick Young with 19 points. Xavier Henry had 17 points, Meeks had 14 points and Jordan Hill had 11 points and 8 rebounds.
Head Coach Dwane Casey only used 8 players in this game and the Raptors put out an unusually consistent effort. The starting unit out played the subs, but every Lakers push was met with a response and push back. This game was never in doubt.
When Toronto plays the Spurs on Tuesday at home, Casey will have 4 new players on his roster and how he will integrate them into his rotation remains a big question. He will get another shot at it Friday against the 76ers and again in Chicago on Saturday.
Bryant will get another chance to shake off some rust on Tuesday against the Suns and then the Lakers travel to Oklahoma City on Friday and Charlotte on Saturday.