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