LOS ANGELES -- Nearly eight months after Kobe Bryant limped off the Lakers' home court with a torn Achilles tendon and a career in doubt, he struggled to keep his composure when he finally stepped back onto the same hardwood.
And though his comeback night didn't quite go to script, Bryant couldn't help reflecting on the work necessary to get back on that court -- and all the months of steady labor ahead to reclaim his game.
Bryant had nine points and eight rebounds in his season debut, but Amir Johnson scored a career-high 32 points in the Toronto Raptors' 106-94 victory over Los Angeles on Sunday night.
Bryant began his 18th NBA season by going 2 for 9 with four assists and eight turnovers in 28 minutes. The fourth-leading scorer in NBA history got hurt April 12 and persevered through several months of rehabilitation to return for Los Angeles' 20th game of the new season, only to struggle with his shot, his timing and his new teammates.
"My rhythm is completely out of sync," Bryant said. "But this is a start, and I guess a start is good."
The building had the buzz of a playoff game before the opening tip, with thousands of fans training cameras on Bryant during opening warmups. The building erupted in loud applause at every mention of Kobe, who was introduced last in the starting lineup to the thunderous strains of "The Imperial March" -- Darth Vader's theme from "Star Wars."
The crowd roared again the first time Bryant touched the ball, and he found Robert Sacre underneath the hoop for an assist on Los Angeles' first possession. Bryant hit a free throw for his first point in the second quarter, followed shortly by an 8-foot, double-pump, left-handed bank shot for his first field goal.
Bryant added a signature 22-foot face-up jumper later in the period, but also showed clear signs of rust and unfamiliarity with his new teammates.
"We're going to have to carry Kobe a little bit, because of course he's not 100 percent, not in game shape," said Xavier Henry. "It's going to be fun. It's a long year, and he's just getting back."