He had carried these Lakers through such uncertain times with miraculous shots, an insatiable drive and an insane ability to play through any amount of injuries and minutes.
But in the final minutes of their 118-116 victory Friday over the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers’ rock cracked. Kobe Bryant fell on the floor after driving past Harrison Barnes at the top of the key. Although Bryant eventually stood up enough to make two late-game free throws literally on one foot, he couldn’t take it anymore. Bryant limped off to the court with 3:06 remaining, headed to the locker room and learned he probably has a torn Achilles tendon in his left foot that will keep him out for the rest of the season and possibly beyond.
But as Bryant’s MRI results taken this morning, his personal trainer, Tim Grover, spoke with absolute certainty on one thing regarding his client’s injury.
“It had nothing to do with the minutes he had been playing or anything of that sort,” Grover said in a phone interview with this newspaper. “A torn Achilles tendon is a very freaky injury. It’s just one of those things that just happened.”
Grover conceded the possibility that Bryant’s torn Achilles tendon could stem from the bone spurs in his left foot that he has had “for a while.” But Grover said it’s common for anyone to suffer the injury through every-day movements, such as climbing out of bed or stepping off a sidewalk.
“Everybody is trying to look at somebody to blame for it whether it be the coaching staff, Kobe, me or whatever it is. But everyone who is involved with him has to take responsibility in this. But it’s more of a freakish injury than anything else.”
It looked at times that Bryant couldn’t overcome various injuries throughout the game, but he kept proving otherwise. With 10:30 left in the third quarter, Bryant banged his left knee as he drove baseline toward the basket. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti attended to him, but Bryant eventually stood up on his own accord. With six minutes left in the third quarter, Bryant began favoring his right leg and repeatedly tried to stretch it out.
Somehow, Bryant still gutted out a 34-point effort on nine of 21 shooting and made two back-to-back three-pointers that tied the game 107-107 with 5:05 remaining. Nearly two minutes later, Bryant hobbled on the ground. After a timeout, Bryant made two free throws to the game up with 3:06 left.
“It looked like an Achilles but I wasn’t’ sure because he got up and shot the free throws,” Grover said. “When he was back in the locker room and he said it felt like he got kicked, that’s the sign of a torn Achilles tendon.”
Grover has handled these incidents for quite a while with Bryant for the past six seasons. He witnessed Bryant fight through knee, ankle and finger injuries as well as a concussion. In his recent book, “Relentless,” Grover goes into great detail on how Bryant frequently collaborates with Grover during private workouts and rehab sessions in hopes that it maximizes his healing and play. But even Grover admits Bryant’s latest setback involves a unique challenge. Bryant will definitely be out for the rest of the season. His return may even impact the final year of his contract in the 2013-14 season.
“The battle with this kind of injury is it’s going to be from the neck up,” Grover said. “If he decides he wants to do this, it will get done. I’m not worried about the physical part of it. I’m worried about the mental state.”
But Grover saw one important sign that suggests Bryant won’t compromise his will.
Bryant stood by his locker afterwards nursing crutches showing tears in his eyes, expressing both frustration with his injury and persistence that he’ll overcome it.
“He did exactly what I’d thought he’d do,” Grover said. “He didn’t run and hide. He faced the media like he does all the time and say what’s on his mind and what he thought about it. Most of the time you see a player go down, they’re already wheeled to the hospital and they’re gone and they’re out of there. You guys have to chase them down. He sat down and waited, addressed everybody and said this is what’s going on, this is where I think it’s going to happen. We’ll move forward from there.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org