Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher sat side by side on the bench with their warm-ups on looking intently onto the court at a game which still hung in the balance. Fisher had been replaced by Steve Blake with 3:44 left in the third quarter of the Lakers' game Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks with the Lakers clinging to a 79-75 lead. Bryant had been taken out soon after for Shannon Brown with 1:45 remaining in the third with the Lakers holding onto an 84-80 advantage.
Bryant, with a towel draped over his knees, sat at the end of seat like a head coach at times, screaming instructions onto the court. It isn't unusual for Bryant and Fisher to be sitting on the bench at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter. Lakers coach Phil Jackson has routinely tried to extend the rest time for both players by not only giving them the end of the third and fourth quarters off but more importantly those precious commercial minutes in between. What happened while the Lakers' captains were on the bench, however, was a sight the Lakers are still happily getting used to.
With Bryant and Fisher sitting on the bench, the Lakers went on a 20-10 run and took a 104-90 lead with 6:45 left in the game before Bryant returned to the floor. While Luke Walton found Matt Barnes under the basket for an easy dunk and Blake connected with Pau Gasol for an easy lay-up, the fourth quarter belonged to Brown, who scored 16 of his 21 points in the final period. Brown was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field in the final quarter, connecting on all four of his three point attempts and hit four straight baskets to give the Lakers a 14-point lead before Bryant returned to the game.
Even when Bryant returned he was more of a facilitator with his only basket coming within the final minute to give the Lakers a 118-107 lead. Bryant finished with what can only be described as a solid game in Jackson's book when it comes to minutes (less than 37) and shot attempts (less than 25). He played 33 minutes, scoring 31 points on 10-of-23 shooting, and made all 11 of his free throw attempts.
The biggest take away from the win, however, was the way the Lakers were able to play with Bryant and Fisher (who never returned after being taken out in the third quarter) on the bench. They not only maintained their lead but more than doubled it as Brown continued to show off his range from beyond the arc. No one on the Lakers is happier for Brown's emergence then Bryant, who took Brown under his wing as soon as he was traded to the Lakers two years ago and has mentored him into the all-around player he has become this season.
"He's a worker," said Bryant, who called Brown his little brother. "He's talented, physically gifted, but he puts the work in."