Kobe's back — Utah Jazz defenders not convinced Bryant's injury will slow him

Published: Tuesday, May 13 2008 12:09 a.m. MDT

Utah Jazz's Deron Williams, left, and C.J. Miles get some laughs out before starting practice Monday morning, a day after a Game 4 win against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 NBA Playoffs.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

Reigning NBA MVP Kobe Bryant on Monday told reporters in Los Angeles that his injured back should not prevent him from playing in Wednesday night's Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinal series between the Jazz and his Lakers.

It's news that should come as no great surprise to the Jazz.

Some from Utah, after all, claimed Monday they were not even aware he was hurt in Sunday's Game 4, and others didn't seem to be buying the extent of pain suggested by Bryant's various displays of agony during the Jazz's overtime win.

"I didn't know," said Andrei Kirilenko, Utah's primary late-game defender on Bryant, who twisted the back on his second shot of the game and was bothered by resulting muscle spasms. "It wouldn't have changed anything, though."

"I thought he twisted his ankle or something on A.K. (Kirilenko)," Deron Williams added. "I didn't see anything else."

Asked when he realized Bryant was hurt, Ronnie Brewer — who guards Bryant early in games — turned to Williams and posed a question of his own.

"D-Will — how many shots did Kobe end up shooting?" he asked.

"Thirty-three," Williams responded.

Even when it was pointed out that Bryant — a 51.3 percent shooter in his first seven postseason games this year — had made just 13 of those 33 attempts, Brewer still wasn't sold.

"He didn't stop shooting," he said, "so obviously I thought he wasn't hurt that bad. He didn't sit out, or pass the ball."

Asked when he knew, All-Star Carlos Boozer said, "I didn't see the replays until after the game was over with, when he was limping back and forth.

"When he had the ball in his hands," Boozer added, "it seemed like he was all right. ... It didn't seem like he had too much back pain at that point in time."

So it supposedly went unnoticed by the Jazz when someone on the Laker sideline applied a wrap to Bryant's back.

And that he was resting on the floor when not playing.

Kirilenko claimed to not know even when Bryant crumbled late in the game, wincing with pain.

"I didn't even see him," said Kirilenko, who was on Bryant for that particular overtime play. "I just walked back and, like, I didn't really pay attention."

Eventually, with time, and prodding, Brewer did confess that the Jazz had a clue much earlier.

"I heard at halftime that he hurt his back, and he was in pain," he said.

"But," Brewer added, "he still was aggressive, he still was taking shots, still wasn't passing the ball, still finished with 33 points. So, even if he was hurt, he's still an amazing player."

That's the Jazz's story, then.

And they're (mostly) sticking to it.

By extension, the Jazz also maintain they didn't play Bryant — who was applying electrical stimulus to his back and standing throughout a brief postgame news conference — any differently Sunday.

"No," Boozer said. "Not at all. You know, we played Kobe like he's Kobe."

They also insist they'll do nothing differently Wednesday, no matter whether he's at full strength or something much less.

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