Devastating injury figures to only fuel Kobe Bryant

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant knew exactly what had happened the moment he crumbled to the floor.

He didn't want to believe it but the feeling was unmistakable as he tried to get up and put pressure on his left foot.

As Pau Gasol stood in front of him, Bryant looked down at his leg and looked up at Gasol and angrily uttered an expletive.

He would utter the same expletive twice more, each time his voice taking a more somber tone as the reality of it all sunk in before he finally looked at the official and called a timeout.

"I knew," Bryant said, shaking his head. "For sure."

Bryant had never suffered a torn Achilles tendon before but had heard the horror stories from others who had, and it's one of the easier injuries for players and trainers alike to diagnose on the spot. Quite simply, when that tendon pops and recoils, you know.

"I was just hoping it wasn't what I knew it was," Bryant said. "I tried to walk it off hoping that the sensation would come back but no such luck."

And what was that sensation like? "I had no Achilles," Bryant said. "That's the sensation."

Bryant was trying to get around Harrison Barnes with 3:08 left in the game Friday night and the Los Angeles Lakers trailing the Golden State Warriors 109-107 when he fell to the ground.

Amazingly, Bryant limped back onto the court and made two free throws to tie the score before limping off once again and being helped to the locker room by Lakers center Robert Sacre and team trainer Gary Vitti.

"I made a move I make a million times, and it just popped," Bryant said. "It's a terrible, terrible feeling."

After the game, it was impossible to tell that the Lakers had just defeated the Warriors 118-116 to maintain a one-game lead over the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. If anything, it looked as if the Lakers had just been eliminated from the postseason and were staring into the harsh reality of a long, uncertain offseason.

Players dressed quietly in front of their lockers, answering questions from reporters with soft whispers as if they were speaking at a funeral.

"It's sad to see him go down like this," Dwight Howard said. "He works so hard just to play. ... I could just see it in his face. When you injure yourself to the point where you can't play, it hurts. It's a deep hurt."

Bryant watched the end of the game from the training room inside the Lakers' locker room, looking at the TV and the left leg that failed him when he needed it most. This had already been the most draining season of his 17-year career, and it was being capped off by the most serious injury he has ever suffered.

He was still in his uniform when his wife, Vanessa, and two daughters, Natalia and Gianna, came to visit him in the training room.

"I was really tired, man," Bryant said. "I was just tired in the locker room. Upset and dejected and thinking about this mountain I have to overcome. This is a long process. I wasn't sure I could do it. But then the kids walked in here, and I had to set an example. 'Daddy's going to be fine. I'm going to do it.' I'm going to work hard and go from there."

Bryant is often viewed as an indestructible robot who can defy age and injuries. It's a persona he loves pushing and building when he plays 48 minutes and scores 47 points on the second night of a back-to-back, as he did Wednesday in Portland.

But Bryant's NBA mortality and vulnerability were on full display as he exited the training room, still in his uniform, limping to his locker on crutches. He stood before the media for about eight minutes and answered their questions before heading into the shower, changing and being carted to his car to drive home with his family.

Bryant had pushed himself to the absolute limit to get the Lakers to the playoffs, and now this.

"Who knows? It was all necessary. It's just a freak situation, I guess," Bryant said. "We worked so hard to put ourselves in a position where we can control our own fate, and that's what we've done. It's just s--- luck."

That's one way to describe a Lakers season that began with so much promise after the additions of Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason. Instead of dominating the league, as most thought they would, the Lakers have seen each one of their stars miss significant time because of injury as they struggled just to stay in the playoff picture.

"It's been a crazy year," Bryant said. "That's for sure."

Bryant now will finish this crazy year on the bench, watching the Lakers fight for their playoff lives against the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets. If the Lakers can somehow make it, their reward is a date with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.

"I'm going to be there still," Bryant said. "I can't be with them out there on the floor, but I can use my intellect to try and break down film and help them see things that they might not see and try to help out as much as I can from the sideline and in the film room and go from there."

Bryant laughed off any notion that Friday night would be his last game in a Lakers uniform after having hinted several times in the past that he was already thinking about retirement.

"It's fueling me," Bryant said. "I can feel it already. Players at this stage of their careers and then they pop their Achilles and they say they're never going to come back the same. I can hear it already. It's pissing me off right now."