Tom Smart, Deseret News
The Lakers' Kobe Bryant drives past Utah's Ronnie Brewer. Bryant played almost the entire game with a sore back.

Kobe Bryant had to carry the Lakers on his back in their Game 3 loss to the Jazz on Friday night. An early injury to that same back in Los Angeles' 123-115 overtime loss to Utah in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon prevented him from doing so again.

On the Lakers' second possession, Bryant twisted his back while attempting a turnaround 15-foot jump shot. He was noticeably hampered the rest of the way, and he aggravated the injury on a couple of occasions. The worst of those came with 2:53 left in overtime when he was fouled by Andrei Kirilenko, and Los Angeles had to burn a timeout to allow him time to recover.

Bryant still nearly recorded a triple-double with 33 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. But his back injury bottled up much of his explosiveness and threw off his shot from all ranges. He was 13-for-33 from the field, 1-for-10 from 3-point range, and he missed four of his first six free-throw attempts. He

played 46 minutes and committed a team-high three turnovers.

"No excuses for me," Bryant said when he addressed reporters more than an hour after Game 4 ended. "A back (injury) is a little different. You have to make some adjustments. You can't run like you want to, can't cut like you want to. It's a back."

Bryant's play — and probably his health — deteriorated down the stretch. He missed 11 of his last 13 field-goal attempts. He couldn't shake Kirilenko, who blocked his first shot attempt in overtime and was an overall nemesis when it was his duty to guard him.

"It was very noticeable," said Lakers center Pau Gasol. "He fought through it, played hard, stayed aggressive. It was tough for him, but he definitely competed. Hopefully, he'll be feeling good for the next game."

One person not feeling good following Los Angeles' loss was coach Phil Jackson. He said Bryant's teammates "bailed out" on him in the fourth quarter and overtime. What he meant by that was the rest of the Lakers were giving Bryant the ball too early in their possessions, and then standing around and waiting for the NBA's current MVP to do something with it.

That isn't a horrible strategy when Bryant is healthy. But with Bryant at less than 100 percent, it made the Lakers fairly simple to defend down the stretch.

"I was angry at his teammates for dropping the ball off in his lap when he was in the situation he was in," Jackson said.

Bryant began preparing to play in Game 5 in Los Angeles on Wednesday night before he returned home. He got some treatment for his back before he showered at EnergySolutions Arena. He stood while addressing reporters, who were told that they couldn't ask him more than a total of four questions. Bryant's postgame question-answer session with the media lasted less than two minutes.

"I should be OK," Bryant said "I'll definitely play and be ready to go (for Game 5).


E-mail: aaragon@desnews.com