Kobe Bryant sprained his ankle during the Los Angeles Lakers' loss Wednesday night, generating a moment that was like pulling the emergency brake while going 100 miles per hour to the Lakers' post All-Star break momentum. The Mamba had missed a potential game tying shot, a baseline leaner over the defending Dahntay Jones. The attempt was a bit too strong and clanged off the side of the rim, but it was immediately apparent that the Lakers had lost more than the game.
Kobe Bryant rolled on the Phillips Arena court in pain, laying on the hardwood reaching for his left ankle.The crucial play had happened so fast in the camera-side corner, that all the viewer could see was Kobe going down in a heap. The Lakers would go onto lose, 96-92 in a game that was painfully winnable, but ultimately with a price far greater than just one more L on the schedule.
In the ensuing replays, it's obvious that Kobe suffered a severe ankle sprain by coming down on the side of Jones' foot. It's not entirely uncommon for such a physical defender like the Atlanta small forward keeping close to Bryant, but with the game on the line, there were questions as to whether or not the Mamba was fouled. Judge for yourself on this replay with multiple camera angles:
Less than an hour after the conclusion of the Lakers 96-92 loss in Atlanta, Kobe took to social media, tweeting:
#dangerousplay that should have been called. Period.— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 14, 2013
Kobe later said in a postgame interview "As defensive players, you can contest shots, but you can't walk underneath players. That's dangerous for the shooter. I don't ever want to put that on somebody, I really don't. I just think players need to be made conscious of it and I think officials need to protect shooters. Period."
Jones quickly responded to whether or not he intentionally stuck his foot out in order to hurt Kobe, tweeting:
Tape doesn't lie. Ankle was turned on the floor after the leg kick out that knocked him off balance. I would never try to hurt the man— Dahntay (@dahntay1) March 14, 2013
On first glance, it's hard to tell whether or not Jones placed his foot underneath Bryant on purpose. It was a last second play with an extremely physical defender trying to body up one of the slickest shooters in the game. Dogging Kobe from the right elbow, it's unclear at first whether or not Jones' momentum simply carries his foot forward, or if he strategically planted it underneath Bryant. Take a look at this slow motion video from TWC Sportsnet and judge for yourself:
It's always difficult to tell in a slow motion replay, but it's fairly apparent that Jones intentionally stamped his foot down beneath Kobe. It doesn't appear to be a natural stride forward, but rather a deliberate motion that stops short where Kobe's left leg would land. Had Jones gone with his momentum, it looks like his entire right leg actually would have been underneath Bryant...which would have been a foul with seconds left on the clock. Either way, it was a clear foul that cost the Lakers on several different levels--the game and perhaps their star player.
Going back to Dahntay's tweet, Jones claims that Kobe rolled his ankle not on his foot, but rather on the ground. That may be true, but even if that is the case, he did so because he had to displace his foot at the last second...because another player's limb was in the way of his natural landing spot. There's really no way to excuse this.
Kobe complains about calls all the time, not entirely different than every other player in the league. However, Jones invaded the shooter's space in both a clear violation of the rules and more importantly, an play that has seriously injured someone.
The NBA must look into the conclusion of last night's game and think about possible punishments for Jones. The game results is in the books and a player is already hurt, but the league has to put a message out there that this isn't a matter to be taken lightly.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino