What a way to make an entrance. Kobe Bryant returned to the Los Angeles Laker roster with his clutch ability on full display as he sank a three-pointer with 4.3 seconds on the clock to sink the Memphis Grizzlies 99-98 Tuesday night.
If there were any doubts as to which approach Bryant would take after a five game layoff they were quickly answered as Bryant sprinted to a nine point first quarter which included a four point play.
Bryant looked as if he had never left the court, and rust was an afterthought in the wake of his 32 point performance which included 13-of-19 shooting from the field, seven rebounds, and six assists.
He was not alone in his endeavours as Pau Gasol played the perfect side-kick, chipping in 22 points and 13 rebounds, and clearly outplaying his brother, Memphis center Marc Gasol.
Even Andrew Bynum was effective in his return to the site of last season's injury, contributing 15 points and four rebounds in 24 minutes of play.
If there was a down side to the evening it was the recession into the shadows by Ron Artest and Lamar Odom, who showed none of their previous intensity or aggressiveness in Bryant's absence.
Artest finished with a paltry three points on 1-of-9 shooting, although he did contribute seven rebounds and Odom ended the game with a less than stellar five points and three rebounds.
The Grizzlies gave a spirited performance and never allowed the Lakers to get out of striking distance, and actually managed to steal the lead in the third quarter due to the play of Zach Randolph and O.J. Mayo.
Randolph had 20 points and 14 rebounds and Mayo had 25 points, but missed crucial free throws late in the game which could have sealed it for the Grizzlies.
On this night however, the Grizzlies were a side-show, designated to secondary status by the return of one of the greatest players in the game, and once again he would not fail to disappoint.
There were many questions concerning the manner in which Bryant would receive his teammates in the wake of their exceptional play in his absence, but once the game started it was just like old times.
Bryant looked for his shot early and often, but he did make an effort to get his teammates involved, and he did manage to keep them engaged late in the game when it mattered.
But in a scene which has been replayed numerous times this season when the Lakers truly needed a basket, they turned to their leader, and like he has done on countless occasipns, Bryant delivered.
This was the small piece which had been missing from a Laker team which gained valuable confidence during their five game stretch. They had discovered a rhythm, but lacked the ability to close that Bryant represents.
The same situation presented itself against the Boston Celtics earlier this week and the Lakers were unable to answer in the clutch. Bryant's return is an example of what can happen when a player known for those moments, has the ball in his hands.