He rolled his left ankle late in a Game 4 loss to the Hornets, and although he came back and played, it seemed serious afterward. Bryant skipped the customary trip to the podium for the postgame press conference, and instead did his interviews from the training table to save the steps. Later, he was seen leaving the arena on crutches.
None of that would matter, however, in terms of Bryant playing in Game 5 on Tuesday. And not only did he play, but as we've come to expect from him in these situations, he largely performed as though the injury weren't an issue.
Bryant threw down a thunderous slam dunk over Emeka Okafor in the second quarter that brought the crowd to its feet, and energized the Lakers on the way to a 106-90 victory, and with it, a three games to two lead in the best-of-7 series.
We knew Bryant would play; if he has all of his limbs attached, that's pretty much how it's going to go in the postseason. The only question was how effective he would be, and whether the injury might limit him to the point where his presence on the court would do more harm than good. We didn't have to wait too long for the answer.
After a slow first quarter, one where Bryant didn't record a field-goal attempt and was torched on the defensive end by Trevor Ariza for 10 points, Bryant came alive in the second. The bench had gotten L.A. back into it by opening the period with a 10-0 run, which erased the Hornets' nine-point advantage. Bryant got warmed up by knocking down a couple of mid-range jumpshots, and then came the dunk that will be shown on a constant loop on your favorite sports highlight show for at least the next 24 hours.