LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant will always be associated with the number 81, and with good reason. But here are two more digits tied to Bryant that are just as eye-popping: 79.
As in 79 seconds, the total amount of time Bryant has sat in the Los Angeles Lakers' last two games -- both wins -- coming just shy of going the distance and playing the maximum 96 minutes.
Bryant scoring in the 80s as a 27-year-old was one thing. But to play two entire games in a row as a 34-year-old nursing a bum left ankle that exacerbated a bone spur in his left foot? And then to not only play that much time, but to average 21 points, 12.5 assists, 10 rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot? Well, that’s another thing altogether.
"Hopefully all those minutes that he's playing won't affect him in a negative way down the road," Pau Gasol said. "He's giving it all. He knows the importance of this time of the year, and he's just fully working and fully playing at his best."
That Bryant played all but the final 23 seconds of the third quarter against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday was his call. He told coach Mike D'Antoni after the first quarter to leave him in because he intended to play the entire game.
Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks was a little different, as it seemed coach and player planned it together.
"Well, we talked about it," D'Antoni said. "You know the timeouts are so long because of TNT and the 20-minute halftime, so he just felt great and goes, 'Why? Why come out?' He wanted to play the whole game."
Bryant's stat line was a thing a beauty -- 23 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds, four steals and two blocks to account for his 19th career triple-double. But afterward his body was feeling the ugly aftereffects of pushing that hard for that long.
"I feel sore right now," Bryant said, drowning his legs in an ice bucket in front of his locker. "My back is a little sore and my hamstrings are a little sore.
“I just have to push through it a little bit right now."
That's the balance L.A. is trying to pull off: pushing Bryant and the team as hard as it can over the final seven games of the regular season to make it into the playoffs, but not burn out and have nothing left when the postseason begins.
"We have to watch because we got to play Friday [against the Memphis Grizzlies] and Sunday [against the Los Angeles Clippers] so we got to be careful," D'Antoni said. "So, going forward we're going to try to get [Bryant] some more time [on the bench], get Steve [Nash] back and get him some more time [to rest]."
For now, it worked. The Lakers got two wins and Bryant got to add another triple-double to his career count, something that has barely eluded him all season long.
Bryant has had one other triple-double this season, with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists against Houston on Nov. 18. However, there have been 14 others he's missed by needing a few more assists or rebounds or both.
"I’ve had a lot of them like this where I’ve been a rebound or an assist away," Bryant said. "It really depends on the [defensive] coverages. You look at teams and how they’re playing, and then it’s on me to manipulate the defense and put my guys in a position to be successful."
Yup, every single minute of the game.