For a while, it appeared as though Kobe Bryant wouldn't make it out of the first quarter -- let alone come up with his most productive game of the season.
Bryant scored 48 points in 46 minutes after spraining his left shoulder, and the Los Angeles Lakers recorded a season high in points Tuesday night with a 117-99 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
``It couldn't have been that bad, because he scored 48,'' teammate Lamar Odom said. ``Kobe doesn't show signs of hurt. He won't let you know. And that's probably a weakness.''
Los Angeles got 18 points and nine rebounds from Caron Butler, who returned from a one-game suspension. Odom had 15 points and 13 rebounds despite early foul trouble.
Bryant's non-shooting shoulder took a beating in the first 5 1/2 minutes. First, he hit the deck after missing a spinning layup and falling over Eric Williams. He staggered off the court wincing again after driving the lane and getting the ball slapped out of his hands by rookie center Rafael Araujo.
Bryant, coming off a 42-point effort against Miami on Saturday, went to the dressing room after the second incident. But only seven seconds ticked off the clock before he reported back in -- the only time Bryant wasn't on the floor until the fourth quarter, when he spent the first two minutes on the bench.
``There were certain things that I could not do with it, but I could still raise my arm up and still move it from side to side,'' said Bryant, who was 14-for-26 from the field and 16-for-18 on free throws. ``Some of the movements I couldn't do -- like tying my shoe -- were not really important.''
The Lakers, primed for an emotional letdown following their 104-102 overtime loss to the Heat in Shaquille O'Neal's celebrity-studded return to Staples Center, beat Toronto for the sixth straight time. They were 13-for-25 from 3-point range after attempting a franchise-record 36 shots from 3-point range against Miami and making 14.
``We've got a confident group of guys when it comes to shooting the ball,'' Odom said. ``We've got guys 6-11 like Brian Cook who can step out and hit 3s. Jumaine Jones can really let it fly, and Kobe can hit shots from anywhere. But it can definitely come back and bite you. ... With the 3-pointer, you either live by it or die by it.''
Donyell Marshall made a 3-pointer and a dunk 21 seconds apart to give Toronto a six-point lead with 8:15 to play. But Bryant fueled a game-ending 32-8 run with 17 points, and the Lakers held the Raptors to just one field goal over the final 6:45.
``We're a team that doesn't give up, no matter what, and we just keep gnawing at you. But we've just got to protect the paint,'' Butler said.
``We'd be so great if we could do that, because then we could get into our running game more often. We've got guys like Lamar, Kobe, Chucky Atkins, and myself who look great on the break. But in order to get into our fast-break offense, we've got to stop people.''
It was the first time in 10 tries this season that the Lakers won a game they trailed after three quarters, and dropped the Raptors to 0-15 when they give up at least 100 points.
``We've got to play hard from beginning to end,'' Marshall said. ``We can't start off well and then try to come back. We have to play a good solid 48 minutes.''
The Lakers improved to 15-12 and finished their December schedule 6-6. It's their first month without a winning record since last January, when O'Neal missed 12 games with a strained right calf and they were 6-9.
Rafer Alston had 13 points and 11 assists for the Raptors, who had seven players in double digits while losing for the 11th time in 14 games and the ninth straight time on the road. Williams, making his third start since Jalen Rose was dropped from the starting lineup last Wednesday, had 12 points.
Toronto is 2-4 since trading Vince Carter to New Jersey for Williams, Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams and two first-round draft picks on Dec. 17. Mourning has yet to play for the Raptors because of injuries that landed him on the injured list Monday.
Araujo, who replaced Mourning on the active roster, had eight points in 19 minutes after missing five games with a lower back strain.
Although Kobe had a slow start, he really got things going in the 2nd quarter. He is really starting to show his leadership position that was given more of a load without Shaq. Lets hope the shoulder injury doesn't hold him back too much.