Kobe Bryant played 37 minutes in the Los Angeles Lakers 102-91 loss to the Toronto Raptors. That is over his average of 34.5 minutes per game last season, an average Lakers Head Coach Byron Scott had previously said Bryant would not exceed. When asked if he "anticipated" playing Kobe over his minutes limit, Scott said "No, but I also was thinking 'let's see if we can cut this lead, let's see if we can get this win.' We got a day off before we get going on Sunday... I know he'll be ready for Sunday."
"I know the minutes," continued Scott "That was big for him tonight, but again I'm not worried about it still. From an average standpoint he's still at about an average of 31 minutes a game. They were pretty much where I wanted them until the fourth quarter."
Scott had previously told Bill Oram of the OC Register during a preseason interview that he "felt bad" about playing Bryant as many minutes as he did last year and that he would "stick to his guns" to keep from Bryant exceeding his 2014-15 minutes per game average.
"I don't do it," Scott told Oram in the sit down. "This is what we talked about, this is what we felt would be the best way to use you and to make you the most efficient that you could be, I'm going to stick to it. Win or lose, I'm going to stick to it."
After the loss to the Raptors, Scott painted a different picture. "I worry about [Kobe's minutes] now," the coach said, but explained that during the game "[Bryant and I] didn't even talk about it. I just left him out there. Because I knew we needed him out there."
"At the time when we're trying to win the basketball game you try not to worry about it," Scott went on, "but obviously after the game you worry about it."
When questioned further about Bryant playing past his minutes average last season, when Scott previously said Bryant's minutes limit was "around the 30-minute mark", a visibly frustrated frustrated Scott said "It's still at the limit. Look at what he's averaging. It's still at the limit. When it gets over the limit, then we'll talk more about it but right now it's still at the limit."
"It's still at the limit, bottom line," Scott repeated. "When [Bryant's minutes per game average] get's over that limit... 28-34, somewhere in there, in that range then we'll discuss it again."
Scott is moving the goal-line here to a certain extent. Most wouldn't assume that when he spoke of Bryant not exceeding his average minutes from last season that Scott was really saying that Kobe's minutes per game average would not be higher than last year. It was taken to mean that during games this year, even when chasing a win, Scott would "stick to his guns" and not push Kobe over that line.
After playing nearly 36 minutes in the Lakers' Sunday loss to the Pistons, an exhausted Bryant told Baxter Holmes of ESPN that he was not looking forward to walking to his car. Bryant played even more minutes against the Raptors, but sounded like he thought he would be okay:
Kobe - I feel great (after playing about 37 minutes) - says rest and weight training this week— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) November 21, 2015
Whether Bryant feels "great" or not, however, this extended use of Bryant's minutes is certainly worth watching this season given that Kobe wants to finish the season healthy after three consecutive season ending injuries.
All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com