There was a somber mood at the Staples Center tonight in the wake of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant’s death.
Before the Lakers’ first game since the tragic accident that claimed nine lives, LeBron James gave a heartfelt speech to give tribute to his fallen friend, opting to throw away a pre-written speech. He went off the cuff to talk about family, grief, and supporting one other. He fought back tears as he shared his adoration for Bryant, and their interactions both on and off the court.
“In the words Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba out’,” said James. “But in the words of us, never forgotten. Live on, brother.”
The pre-game introductions saw all of the Lakers players wearing No.8 and No.24 jerseys, with the stadium announcer eschewing the players’ names and introducing them all as Kobe Bryant from Lower Merion High School.
It was clear that the game of basketball wasn’t the most important thing. Even ESPN’s play-by-play announcers Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mike Breen were also fighting back their emotions.
The Portland Trail Blazers joined the Lakers in paying tribute on the court by taking a 24-second shot clock violation and eight-second backcourt violations to honor Bryant’s two numbers.
Carmelo Anthony was not with the Blazers on the trip, citing that it was too hard to play in a building that had become synonymous with his lost friend.
The crowd erupted with the first basket of the game, a dunk from Anthony Davis that came through an assist from James.
Davis and James led the Lakers in first quarter. The former had a monster start to the game, with 18 points, five rebounds, and three assists. The latter orchestrated the offense well with six points and five assists. It wasn’t enough to keep the lead, though, as CJ McCollum made a buzzer-beating three to give the Blazers a 38-36 edge.
The offense wasn’t so free-flowing for either team in the second quarter, with the Lakers outscoring the Blazers 26-22 to finish the half ahead 62-60. Trevor Ariza was called for a foul jumping into Avery Bradley in the Laker half with 0.1 seconds left that allowed the Lakers to grab the edge.
The trio of Lillard, Hassan Whiteside and McCollum were the key scorers at the half with 19, 13, and 11 points.
The second half opened with a hot start from Lillard, who nailed two threes from 27 and 34 feet to key a 10-3 run that saw the Blazers take a 70-65 lead. The Lakers used their own run, capped by an Anthony Davis three pointer 10-2 run to take a 75-72 lead that forced a timeout from the Blazers with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Lillard picked up a technical foul in the third and then responded by supernova. He started making threes from everywhere in the Lakers’ half, including a four-point play with just under five minutes left that gave the Blazers an 84-83 lead. Lillard scored 23 points in the third quarter, and it felt surprising when he missed a shot during his hot streak.
Davis picked up the pace again for the Lakers in the third, though. He put up 11 points including his own four-point play to keep the Lakers close, but the Blazers entered the fourth quarter with a 103-96 lead.
The Blazers started the fourth quarter with Lillard on the bench, but were able to grow their lead to 12 thanks to their opponents going ice cold to start the fourth quarter.
The crowd broke out with Kobe chants with 9:10 left in the game and were rewarded by Kyle Kuzma with the home team’s first basket of the fourth quarter. Inspired, the Lakers went on a 9-0 run that cut the lead to three.
That was the closest the Lakers would get, though. They weren’t able to capitalize on a few open opportunities and the Blazers kept finding ways to score in their 127-119 win.
Lillard made good on his promise to honor Bryant by playing hard. He was the best player on the floor with 48 points, nine rebounds, and 10 assists. Whiteside had incredible game on both ends of the floor with 30 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals and five blocks.
Davis led the Lakers with 37 points, 15 rebounds, and five blocks. James had 22 points, eight rebounds, and 10 assists.
The Lakers may not have found a way to get this win for their idol, but everyone in the arena managed to make their own tribute to the Black Mamba.
Bryant would have been proud to know that it took a monster performance from someone who idolized him to beat the Lakers.
Russell Westbrook and James Harden had a combined 67 points, 22 rebounds, 15 assists, and 7 steals for the Houston Rockets in a hard-fought 128-121 win against the Dallas Mavericks.
Kyrie Irving went off for 54 points and helped the Brooklyn Nets defeat the Chicago Bulls 133-118. It was the second-highest scoring performance in franchise history.
The Toronto Raptors notched their tenth straight win after beating the Detroit Pistons 105-92. Pascal Siakam was the star of the show with 30 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.
The New Orleans Pelicans had a big 139-111 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies behind Zion Williamson’s 24 points, six rebounds, and three assists. In a show of unselfish team ball, they had eight players reach double digit scoring.
The Denver Nuggets handed the Milwaukee Bucks their seventh loss after winning 127-115 thanks to Will Barton’s 24 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. All of the nine Nuggets players that played in the game finished the game with at least 10 points.
Chris Paul put up 20 points and 10 assists in another strong performance for the Oklahoma City thunder, who beat the Phoenix Suns 111-107.