Lak­ers fall to Blaz­ers in 1st game since Kobe’s death

Antelope Valley Press - - SPORTS - By GREG BEACHAM

LOS AN­GE­LES — The Los An­ge­les Lak­ers dried their eyes and took the Sta­ples Cen­ter court for the first time since Kobe Bryant’s death with a re­solve that would have made him proud.

Damian Lil­lard played through the bas­ket­ball world’s col­lec­tive heart­break with his own re­mark­able ef­fort.

Lil­lard scored 48 points and the Port­land Trail Blaz­ers beat Los An­ge­les 127-119 on Fri­day night in the Lak­ers’ first game since Bryant, his daugh­ter Gianna and seven oth­ers died in a he­li­copter crash.

Lil­lard hit seven 3-point­ers and added 10 as­sists and nine re­bounds in a phe­nom­e­nal per­for­mance that sent the Blaz­ers to a win over an op­po­nent still deal­ing with the trauma of the crash five days ear­lier.

Both teams stood on the court dur­ing a poignant pregame trib­ute to Bryant in­clud­ing songs, Kobe high­lights and a stir­ring speech by LeBron James. High­lights of Bryant’s ca­reer played dur­ing ev­ery break, but Lil­lard put on a show be­tween the whis­tles.

Lil­lard’s seven 3-point­ers gave him 40 in his last five games, set­ting an NBA record. But even the Blaz­ers star knew re­sults were sec­ondary this time.

“No­body is go­ing to win tonight,” Lil­lard told ESPN dur­ing the game.

“Kobe is gone. His fam­ily isn’t go­ing to get him back. This is just bas­ket­ball.”

James had 22 points, 10 as­sists and eight re­bounds, and An­thony Davis had 37 points and 15 boards in the Lak­ers’ first game since last Satur­day.

Hassan White­side scored 30 points, and C.J. McCol­lum added 19

for the Blaz­ers.

The en­tire evening was likely both pro­foundly painful and cathar­tic for any­one who loves the Lak­ers or Bryant, who won five cham­pi­onships while play­ing his en­tire 20year NBA ca­reer in pur­ple and gold.

Bryant re­tired in 2016, but he re­mained a fran­chise icon and an in­spi­ra­tion to the cur­rent play­ers, who learned about his death on their plane ride home from an East Coast road trip. Their next game against the Clip­pers was post­poned, and the Lak­ers fran­chise per­se­vered through a bru­tal week of cop­ing with the loss.

The Lak­ers fi­nally got back to bas­ket­ball af­ter a pregame cer­e­mony hon­or­ing Bryant’s life and his im­pact on bas­ket­ball. Sev­eral Lak­ers teared up dur­ing the cer­e­mony, as did the Blaz­ers — but af­ter both teams took 24-sec­ond and 8-sec­ond vi­o­la­tions off the open­ing tip, they lifted the heavy mo­ment with grace.

Davis be­gan the game with red eyes, but man­aged to score 18 points in the first quar­ter alone. The Lak­ers com­mit­ted 13 turnovers in the first half while play­ing with an ob­vi­ous sur­feit of en­ergy.

Lil­lard, the gifted Cal­i­for­nia na­tive, went wild in the third quar­ter, scor­ing 23 points and hit­ting six 3-point­ers in a vir­tu­oso dis­play of of­fen­sive skill.

The Lak­ers then trailed by 12 in the fourth quar­ter be­fore a “Kobe! Kobe!” chant broke out. They promptly made a 9-0 run, but the Blaz­ers stayed steadily ahead.

KEVIN REECE/Special to the Val­ley Press

EMO­TIONAL — The Lak­ers’ LeBron James speaks about Kobe Bryant dur­ing a pregame cer­e­mony on Fri­day hon­or­ing the for­mer Laker, who died with eight other people, in­clud­ing his daugh­ter Gianna, in a he­li­copter crash on Sun­day.

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