ATLANTA — The crowd rose to its feet. They then chanted Kobe Bryant’s name, the fervent noise from Lakers supporters making Philips Arena sound like Staples Center. Bryant backed his way into the post. He picked up his dribble. He moved his pivot foot. Then, he unleashed a 20-foot fadeway over Atlanta forward Thabo Sefolosha and drew a foul, a play that brought more implications than just influencing the final score.
The basket then swished into the net. Bryant tightened his jaw. His teammates Carlos Boozer and Nick Young pumped out their fists in mid-air. The noise level reached deafening levels.
Bryant just became the fourth player in NBA history to reach 32,000 points, joining a select group that also includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan. The shot also represented a large part in ensuring the Lakers’ 114-109 victory Tuesday over the Atlanta Hawks and snapping the team’s four-game losing streak.
That play gave the Lakers a 108-102 cushion with 1:11 remaining, representing Bryant’s nine fourth-quarter points that also included two more fadeaway jumpers, a nifty left hook shot, a driving layup and a made free throw.
“That’s my job,” Bryant said.
And as indicated by his new scoring milestone, it is a job he has completed very well.
“It means a lot,” Bryant said. “I can’t stress how much work it is to be in this position to be able to get out and play. Over 19 years, that’s where I take enjoyment from it is the process. It’s a lot of work over 19 years. It feels good to have that accomplishment.”
After all, Bryant only played six games last season amid injuries to his left Achilles tendon and left knee. Yet, here Bryant is averaging a league-leading 27.4 points per game at the ripe age of 36. That explains why Lakers coach Byron Scott described Bryant as “the key that makes the engine go” and gushed that his work ethic provides the perfect model for his younger teammates to emulate. It also explains why Lakers forward Young called Bryant’s play “unbelievable” and “one of the greatest to play this game.”
Yet, Bryant has not navigated the Lakers’ 2-9 record without criticism. He has shot a career-low 38.9 percent from the field. The Lakers’ boasted four other players cracking double digits against the Hawks, including Boozer (20 points), Jordan Hill (18 points), Young (17 points) and Jeremy Lin (15 points). But the Lakers’ offense has often lacked balance this season. Opinions vary on whether Bryant’s high-volume shooting contributes to that imbalance, or whether it reflects his teammates’ passivity and inconsistency.
Meanwhile, Bryant remains 292 points shy from surpassing Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. That storyline has sparked chatter that Bryant became a gunslinger so he could quickly accomplish that milestone.
“There’s always something, especially with me,” Bryant said. “First it’s ‘I can’t come back and play.’ Now I’m playing. Then it’s ‘I’m not playing well enough.’ But you said I would be in a wheel chair and wouldn’t be able to play well. There’s always something. I won’t even waste my time trying to shut people up.”
Instead, Bryant only increased the noise level, his prolific play against Atlanta sparking loud cheers from fans and teammates alike.
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