The realization didn’t come in seven seconds or less.
It actually came in 12 minutes.
That was the only time Kobe Bryant needed to show that he would be well on his way toward his 18th career triple-double in the Lakers’ 119-108 victory Sunday over the Houston Rockets. That’s when he scored 11 of his 22 points on by hitting uncanny jumpers and making drives to the basket. That’s when Bryant grabbed seven of his 11 rebounds by aggressively going after teammates’ missed shots and filling in the defensive gaps. That’s when he posted five of his 11 assists by finding Dwight Howard open for lob dunks and Pau Gasol for mid-range jumpers.
“I’m going to score I’m not a triple double player,” Bryant said in nonchalant fashion. “But it’s cool when it happens.”
But it’s cool for reasons beyond seeing Bryant perform miraculous feats on the basketball court. See, Bryant has accomplished a lot in his 17th NBA season, spanning five championship rings, two Finals MVPS, one regular-season MVP and a fifth-place ranking on the NBA all-time scoring list. So why should he be all giddy about recording his 18th career triple double?
He shouldn’t for his own sake. But it’s far from a coincidence that Bryant never recorded a triple-double when Mike Brown coached the team. The last time he did so happened Nov. 3, 2010 against the Sacramento Kings where he recorded 30 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists during Phil Jackson’s last season.
What Bryant showed against Houston reflected how elements of Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system taps both into his superior talents while ensuring floor balance elsewhere. After all, plenty of Bryant’s teammates posted double figures including Dwight Howard (28 points), Pau Gasol (17 points), Metta World Peace (17 points) and Darius Morris (12 points).
“We’re playing free, simple basketball right now,” Gasol said. “We’re making good decisions with the ball and playing.”
Bryant demonstrated that mindset in numerous ways.
He perfectly timed his three-point attempt toward the end of the quarter so he’d draw contact on Chandler Parsons. In the third quarter, Bryant pump-faked Terrence Jones in the air and then jumped up to draw contact. Bryant founded Gasol open off a jump pass at the top of the key that netted his 15,000th career point. Bryant also timed various dunk sequences for Howard, including a dropoff and an alley-opp from the three-point line.
“We just have to learn how to work together so we can dominate our opponents,” Howard said. “We have to find a way to do it together to throw the defense off and play games with them. We’re getting better at it.”
The Lakers sure did that against Houston. They can thank Bryant operating out of D’Antoni’s efficient and fast-paced offense the right way.
“We just spaced the floor well,” Bryant said. “We shot the ball pretty well and seemed to make the right decision.”
SUNDAY Q&A: TNT NBA commentators Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal talk Lakers
NBA senior photographer Andy Bernstein discusses photographing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Part 1)
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter.