It is inevitable that a person doing something for the first time in eight months will not be as good at it as they normally are. It is therefore unsurprising that, in his first NBA game after a serious injury and an eight month layoff, Kobe Bryant did not play particularly well. The unfortunate part, however, is that Kobe's teammates, at least the ones who started and played most of the game with him, joined Kobe in their struggle to adjust. Kobe Bryant was rusty in his return to the court, but that wasn't the problem that led to the Lakers defeat at the hands of the Toronto Raptors. The problem was that the Lakers were also rusty around Kobe, unable to adapt to his game, and unable to ignore it either.
Kobe was tentative in the attack, struggled with his limited shooting attempts, and forced a number of passes leading to ugly turnovers. His final line of 9 points on 2-9 shooting with 4 assists and 8 turnovers is not one that he will print out and mount on his wall anytime soon (though even the staunchest critic can't help but smile that Kobe somehow found a way to tie for the team lead in rebounding). But his team was also tentative around him. They defered to Kobe while he was on the court even when they didn't have to. The offense ran predominantly through Kobe even though Steve Blake has done an admirable job captaining the offense with Kobe out.
With Kobe running the show, Pau Gasol was thrust back into the limelight as his primary dance partner, and either because of his bum ankle or because Pau just hasn't been particularly good this year, the Spaniard was not ready for it. He shot 3-11 from the field with a couple turnovers himself, all while allowing Amir Johnson to have the game of his life on the other side of the court. And the rest of the starters didn't exaclty cover themselves in glory either. Steve Blake, whose role changed dramatically with Kobe taking over much of the primary ball-handling, struggled mightily, with 3 points on six shots and four turnovers of his own. Wesley Johnson had as many silly fouls on difficult jump shots as he did points, and Robert Sacre couldn't even get off the bench once his five minutes of starter run was up in quarters 1 and 3.
It is also unsurprising that the Lakers were at their best tonight when they were not forced to adapt to a new eco-system. The bench players all got to play the same way they have been playing, and as a result, they looked far more comfortable in their already defined roles. The team as a whole had five players in double figures, and they were all bench players. Xavier Henry was particularly strong, finishing well at the rim and hitting outside shots en route to 17 points.
So, Kobe Bryant was not particularly good in his first game back from a serious injury. His teammates were not particularly good around him, and they were pretty good when he wasn't on the court. But none of this matters. Not the loss, nor the struggle with Kobe, nor the success without him. There was always going to be an adjustment period when Kobe came back into the fold, the only question is whether that adjustment period will be long or short. Despite everything, despite the loss, despite the seeming step back, it was awesome to see him playing basketball again. Now we just need to have a little patience until he starts playing the basketball we're used to.