Los Angeles (AFP) – Kobe Bryant made his much-anticipated season debut, finishing with nine points in his first game in eight months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon.
Bryant also had eight rebounds and four assists as the Los Angeles Lakers lost 106-94 to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.
“It was weird. The last time I had eight months off I was still in the womb,” said Bryant, who shot two-of-nine from the field.
Bryant played good defence at times but also tossed up some air balls and committed a game-high eight turnovers in front of a crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center arena.
Bryant admitted he was rusty but said “it felt good to be back out there.”
“This was a complete failure to me,” said Bryant, who played 28 minutes. “I don’t feel normal at all. I will go home tonight and watch the game again.”
He says he’s worried about his game and that it is just going to take a few more days to get his timing back on the court.
The Lakers wasted no time getting Bryant involved in the contest as he picked up his first assist on the Lakers’ opening possession.
Bryant fired a pass from the left side to centre Robert Sacre under the basket, who split two defenders and went up for the easy basket.
Despite his low scoring performance, Bryant still led the Lakers starters in scoring.
“It is going to take awhile,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. “There is no way he was going to come out and be in mid-season form. It will be a little while before he gets his legs.”
Bryant scored his first point of the season on a free throw with 6:27 left in the first half to cut Toronto’s lead to 42-36.
Bryant said he was more emotional before this game than he has been in a long time.
“I really worked my butt off this summer to try and get to this place,” he said. “You try to go out there do your job the best you can. It makes you appreciate the game.”
Eight months of recovery and rehabilitation from the torn left Achille’s tendon has obviously taken its toll on the 35-year-old Bryant, who is trying to ease his way back into the Lakers’ lineup.
But Bryant said he expects his comeback to pick up more steam as the season goes on.
“I worked hard on my conditioning,” he said. “My shot felt weird and running cutting being able to explode feels weird because I got to get those game legs back.”
Bryant was hurt in the fourth quarter of an April 12 game against Golden State when he tried to drive to the basket and collapsed to the floor in pain. He had surgery the next day and doctors gave him a recovery period of six to nine months.
In 78 games last year, Bryant averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds.
The Lakers were 10-9 this season without Bryant. They have also been playing without Steve Nash who is out with a nerve root irritation in his back. Nash is expected to return next week.
D’Antoni said he was disappointed the Laker starters didn’t contribute more on offence.
“We came out and laid an egg,” he said. “Having Kobe back means we are going to have to work some things out.”
The Raptors reportedly traded Rudy Gay earlier Sunday, a move relegated to footnote status because of Bryant’s return.
Toronto agreed to send forward Gay to the Sacramento Kings for a package of role players. Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray will be joining Gay in Sacramento, while point guard Greivis Vasquez is the biggest name of four players going back to the Raptors.