Kobe Bryant played just 12 minutes in the Los Angeles Lakers' 99-93 victory over the Indiana Pacers, but his merely being in uniform set the tone for what will be a rough-and-tumble final stretch for L.A.
Bryant played in just the 15th scoreless game of his career, but the Lakers pulled out a win on the road over a top-tier playoff team, something they really haven't done all season long.
Bryant's willingness to play after the "sprained ankle heard 'round the world" set an example for his team, allowing him to walk the walk after so much talk all season long.
He wasn't Willis Reed descending from the crowd in Madison Square Garden to play the first few minutes of Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals with a torn thigh muscle, but playing on a serious ankle sprain is no easy task.
Los Angeles has faced adversity all season long, whether it be constant uncertainty in rotations, night-to-night changes in the starting lineup or an injury list as long as Jordan Hill's dreadlocks.
Really, the only constant through the entire season has been Bryant doing everything possible to win games and telling his teammates to deal with the adversity, regardless of how it hurts them personally.
Back in December, when Pau Gasol was coping with being benched at the end of games in favor of a Dwight Howard-Antawn Jamison combination, Kobe was there with the usual words of wisdom.
"Put your big-boy pants on," he said (h/t Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles). "Just adjust. Just adjust. You can't whine about it. You can't complain about it."
The same thing happened a few months later, when Howard was struggling to get past the torn labrum that was hampering him near the end of January.
"We don't have time for (Howard's shoulder) to heal," Bryant said (h/t ESPN.com). "We need some urgency."
That's why, when Bryant came into the game against the Pacers and played the entire first quarter, it was incredibly noteworthy.
He did what he told Gasol and Howard to do: get over it, shut up and play basketball.
Not only that, but after everyone realized that Bryant was struggling to deal with the limited range of motion, he didn't go back into the locker room to get treatment; he stayed on the bench, encouraged his teammates and put on his player-coach pants alongside Mike D'Antoni.
Kobe has an electrical stim unit on his ankle on the bench; of course, he can't go a moment w/out treatment.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 16, 2013
Once he realized that he wasn't going back into the game, there's no way Bryant could have just sat by and watched the game unfold. He had to have some hand in the outcome.
Kobe Bryant is drawing stuff up for Dwight on the bench— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 15, 2013
Kobe's eating a little on the bench too. Now pointing out things to Darius Morris— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 16, 2013
Kobe Bryant giving more instruction to Dwight after he picks up a foul— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 16, 2013
After the game, Bryant answered the slew of questions about his ankle, but he also gave us a look into what he was telling his teammates while on the bench (via Mark Medina).
Reading the defense that is out there and seeing what’s going on and what we can take advantage of. I’m trying to put them in the best position possible to make them successful. Mike has a million things going on their head. Steve and Dwight, they’re out there in the moment so it’s tough to see those things. I could see them from the sideline.
It was an incredibly eye-opening yet unsurprising night from Bryant. Not only did he finally walk the walk this season (though it's not like he hasn't in the past), he also stuck around to support his teammates along the way.
Bryant's commitment to his teammates wasn't just cool to see from the outside, it was a real tone-setting moment for this late Lakers run.
It proves that Bryant's main goal this season is nothing short of winning a championship, regardless of where the Lakers are in the standings. Those who don't follow in his footsteps will draw ire; those who do will reap the benefits.
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