Kobe Bryant said he was unhappy after being benched in the fourth quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers' 102-96 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday night, but he tempered his recounting of the event.
"Of course I was," Bryant told reporters when asked if he was upset about the benching.
Bryant hesitated to elaborate. "Not really," he said at first when asked if he could speak about the substitution, but went on to support Lakers coach Mike Brown when further pressed about the benching.
"It's his decision to make," Bryant said. "He makes the decision. He's the coach. If you guys are looking for a story, I'm not going to give you one. I can't sit here and criticize his decisions. In leading this ballclub, that's something I can't afford to do. I got to have his back. I've had his back the whole season; I can't start doing something crazy now. It wouldn't make no sense."
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The Lakers called timeout midway through the fourth quarter after falling down by double digits. During the timeout, Bryant elbowed a chair on the bench after the Lakers had allowed a three-point deficit to start the final period balloon into a 14-point cushion for Memphis with just 5:45 remaining.
Bryant's frustration only seemed to grow when he was subbed out of the game in favor of Metta World Peace and remained out of the game until 1:51 remaining when he checked back in with the Lakers trailing by nine.
A brief, "Ko-be! Ko-be!" chant broke out at Staples Center in the fourth quarter prior to Brown electing to sub Bryant back into the game.
Brown did not provide a specific reason when asked about taking Bryant out.
"I just felt like I needed to make a sub at the time, so I did," Brown said. "It's not one particular thing. I just made the sub, went with Metta, sat [Bryant] for a couple minutes and then tried to go back to him but obviously it didn't work."
Brown played Bryant the entire third quarter and Bryant's 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting in the period helped fuel a 15-0 run by the Lakers as they erased a 14-point deficit. Brown kept Bryant in to start the fourth quarter but the Grizzlies were able to quickly break the game back open and rebuild a 14-point advantage with Bryant on the floor.
"I usually don't like to run him because he ends up playing a ton of minutes," Brown said. "He was at 38 [minutes], 27 [seconds] tonight but I don't like to run him a whole half if I can help it. If I can give him a minute or two here or there, then I will."
It is unusual for Brown to use Bryant to start the fourth quarter, but hardly unprecedented. When the Lakers last played the Grizzlies in Memphis, Brown kept Bryant in for all 24 minutes of the second half plus the full 10 minutes in the two subsequent overtimes as the Lakers erased a 17-point deficit to win 116-111. Bryant totaled 52 minutes in that game.
When Bryant was asked if he would have had any difficulty playing the entire fourth quarter Sunday, he responded dryly, "Yeah, I would have been exhausted."
Bryant's starting backcourt mate, Ramon Sessions, believed Brown's decision was simply about rest.
"It was just one of those things where I think [Bryant] played the whole third quarter and some of the fourth so coach was trying to get his legs under him and it happened to be towards the end of the game," Sessions said.
Brown was ready to put the substitution to bed without addressing it with Bryant.
"I didn't discuss it with him and I probably won't," Brown said. "I treat him the same as everybody most of the time. Obviously he's a superstar and when you have superstars you try to give them some leeway because they've been there and done that, but if I make a sub for somebody I don't feel like I always have to go and explain to them why I made a sub."