SAN ANTONIO — The Black Mamba didn’t tweet. Something about not wanting to be a distraction.
So Kobe Bryant sat at home again on the sofa in Orange County, this time resting his surgically repaired Achilles’ tendon and both his thumbs.
The Red Mamba did tweak. And jostle. And shove. And pull. And prod. It was all about being as bothersome as a mosquito at a nudist colony.
Matt Bonner never rested for even a single one of the 29 minutes that he had to contest, confront and confound Dwight Howard.
The Lakers All-Star center scored 16 points, pulled down nine rebounds and blocked four shots, but also picked up five fouls and a technical in another one of those nights when he did so much head-shaking that you wondered if it might fall right off his broad and muscular shoulders.
This is life without Kobe for the Lakers, nobody to bail them out at the end of difficult possessions or do some of the improbable things that might make the Spurs defense loosen up and have to guard the perimeter.
There were times in the first half of Game 2 when Howard was a monster at both ends of the floor, muscling inside for rugged buckets and trying to swat down any shot that the Spurs tried. He snarled after rejecting a Tim Duncan shot and he roared after making back-to-back rejections on Tony Parker.
But Howard also went up for an offensive rebound and swung a hard right elbow that caught Bonner square on his face and sent him to the floor like a bag of rocks.
The red-haired Bonner wore a sheepish smile and a red welt as he stood in front of his locker.
“You knock me down, I’ll keep getting up,” said Bonner.
Call it the Chumbawamba defense. Maybe that’s why none other than Kobe himself bestowed the nickname Red Mamba.
Or maybe it was the 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting — including another running one-hander — dubbed the “Shyhook” by the wags of the Internet.
“Matty’s a tough-minded individual,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He’s a heck of a competitor and a great team guy. He’ll do whatever we ask him to do. I think his family worries about him and the things we ask him to do out there.”
Some of those things are the kind that could have future generations of Bonner’s family watching video of him getting abused by the likes of Howard.
“He’s really strong, really good, can jump really high,” Bonner said. “I’m just doing my best trying not to make the top 10 by getting dunked on.”
What he’s doing is whatever he can — grabbing Howard by both shoulders from behind to try to stop him from scoring, giving him a little shove in the lower back to throw him off balance, slapping at his wrists, tugging on his jersey or just stepping into his path to let him know that he’s always there.
When Howard was asked if Bonner got under his skin, he replied tersely: “No, he didn’t.”
But here he was barking at Bonner as he came off the bench out of a timeout. There Howard was flapping his arms and complaining to a referee when the Red Mamba’s nettling defense resulted in another offensive foul.
“I’m not out there trying to frustrate anybody,” Bonner said. “If it got chippy, I didn’t notice.”
Despite the fact that Parker danced to a 24-point second half, this series has been anything but a waltz for the Spurs. It’s been rough, physical and their top two guns — Parker and Duncan — are shooting a combined 31-for-74 (.419) and yet the Spurs have a 2-0 lead because they have been able to stifle the Lakers’ inside game with double-teams and a guy from New Hampshire who looks like a lumberjack.
“If you see that (matchup) on paper, you may think that he has no shot, of course,” said Manu Ginobili. “He did a wonderful job fronting him, bothering him with activity and behind him we are there to help him.”
Every time Howard tried to zig, Bonner was there to zag. When Howard spun, Bonner poked. When Howard dribbled, Bonner prodded. When Howard tried to inhale, Bonner’s task was to try to take up all the oxygen.
As the Laker bodies — Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Metta World Peace — continue to break down, it puts more and more pressure on Howard to rise up and carry the load. It’s the kind of burden that can test a player’s limits, take him to the edge and it becomes easier and easier for the likes of Bonner to shove him right over.
Kobe might not tweet anymore in the series, but Bonner will keep right on tweaking.
“No, it’s not fun,” said the Red Mamba.
But very effective.