LOS ANGELES -- He never paused, never even tried to slow down. Kobe Bryant sprinted full bore, chasing the ball as it sailed out of bounds, and he leapt. By the time his sneakers returned to earth, the Los Angeles Lakers star had cleared the first courtside row, but the landing scared the Staples Center crowd silent.
Upon impact on the concrete, his 36-year-old knees -- those knees with all those years of hard playoff mileage -- appeared as though they were this close to bending the wrong way.
A few degrees more, and that would've been it, probably -- Bryant done just five games in, his season finished one game earlier than a season ago, when a knee injury failed him one season after his Achilles failed him. Maybe he would've been done for good. Maybe.
But Bryant took a second to gather himself Tuesday, during his second-half hurdle in his team's 112-106 loss to the Phoenix Suns here at Staples Center, and then he stood and returned to the court, just fine, and Lakers fans could breathe again.
"The thing with him, he plays every game like it's his last game," Lakers coach Byron Scott said. "That's what you want."
The Lakers lost, again, but by any measure, Bryant emptied every bullet in his chamber, some aimed at the Suns, but most aimed at Father Time. He scored 39 points on 37 shots in 44 minutes, all season-highs, but it wasn't enough.
Sure, the Lakers are off until Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets, so Bryant went extra hard against Phoenix, knowing a break was on the horizon.
But this will happen. Often. Bryant will fire away, trying to keep his team in games no matter how many shots it takes, and at the very least, it will appear as though he's leaving it all out there, that he's trying. This approach will also be criticized. Often.
"Look, man. I think the most important thing is to understand the relentlessness that you have to play with," Bryant said.
"I'll go out there and I'll leave it on the floor, everything, and compete and be relentless and not be fearful of criticism or fearful of not playing well and missing shots.
"And that's the same way I want the guys to play -- Jeremy [Lin] in particular. Because he's a really good player, man. And he's just getting used to playing with that [expletive] attitude.
"Can I shoulder the load and these minutes consistently? Probably not. But every now and then it will be necessary."
He limped to his locker, his feet still numb after being dunked in an ice bucket. Then, he discussed his night, which fell far short of his career-high 49 field-goal attempts in 2007, and he used the word "relentless" in some form or fashion five times in 7½ minutes.
"It's easy to look at it and say 37 shots," Bryant said, "but you don't see how hard I was working to get easy opportunities: offensive rebounds and transition shots and some of the easy ones that I missed. But when you play with a lot of energy and you play relentless, you'll get a lot of opportunities."
On Tuesday, the other four starters shot a combined 35 shots. Bryant had one assist.
"If Kobe is going to get his points, make him take a lot of shots," Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said. "That's what happens."
It's entertaining, for the world is seeing a player's ferocious fight against his own mortality, seeing him try to make his team competitive on his own.
"We're not necessarily playing the smartest basketball right now," said Lin, who had 18 points on 4-of-8 shooting, "but I can't sit here and say that we have guys that don't want to try their hardest."
Said Scott: "As far as [Bryant] carrying the load, he's going to do whatever he thinks he has to do for us to win a game. I think the other guys, they know they have to step up."
Bryant's frustration burned through his postgame answers.
What positive could he take from it? "Nothing," he said.
The team is progressing at least from its earlier blowouts? "Big wow," he said.
The team is closer to a win, perhaps? "Don't care. Doesn't matter. We've got to win these games," he said.
If anything, Bryant believes it can all change.
"Just as easily as we lost five in a row," he said, "we can win five in a row."
He believes that, because he has to, even if he is alone in that belief, just as he looked like he was often alone when playing the Suns, one hopelessly against five.
After their fifth straight loss, Bryant said he couldn't gauge the morale in the locker room.
"I'm not really sure," he said. "When I came in here, I kind of blacked the hell out. I don't know how everybody else was feeling."
He paused, seething.
"But I'm not feeling too good," he added.
He said he could only tell his team one thing.
"Just get a damn win," he said. "That's it.
"You've just got to be determined, man. Everybody says that you can't listen to the criticism or whatever has happened or whatever people are saying. ...
"You've got to be stubborn as a mule. You've got to keep chipping away. You've got to keep competing and going after it and this thing will turn around."
He believes that, because he has to. Even if he is alone in that belief, even if he seems alone on the court. Determined, if it comes down to it, that he'll do this -- whatever this is -- by himself.