Were Kobe, Lakers doomed at Moda? Dame straight
There was a buzz in the air at the Moda Center Saturday night as fans prepared to watch Kobe Bryant make his final appearance against the Trail Blazers.
But were Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers doomed to defeat in the retiring superstar's final go-around in Portland?
Dame right they were.
Damian Lillard put on a scintillating show, and backcourt sidekick CJ McCollum wasn't shabby, either, as the Blazers blew away the inept Lakers 121-103.
Lillard and McCollum combined for 64 points as the young bucks bid adios to the old gunslinger in his final duel with an old West rival.
"Aside from our team performance, it was a blast to be here," said Bryant, who scored 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting with two rebounds, one assist and five turnovers in 25 minutes. "I have so many memories here -- most of the time we ended up on the losing side of things in the regular season.
"I have such great memories of the fans, our playoff battles I just tried to glance around and take it all in as much as possible."
Bryant entered the building wearing an all-plaid gray suit in honor of the late Jack Ramsay, the Trail Blazers' greatest coach. "A subtle tribute, absolutely," Kobe said afterward.
After the pregame meeting of team captains at center court, Bryant posed for a photo with Lillard and a young fan -- the game's honorary captain -- before a warm embrace with Lillard.
During the game, Bryant moved around as would a 38-year-old veteran of 20 years of NBA warfare, a night after playing 27 minutes in San Antonio. He received a mixture of boos and cheers during introductions and was booed by some fans every time he touched the ball.
Bryant picked his spots, showing energy only in flashes. He used the old shake-and-bake, stutter-step move for a fadeaway from the baseline in the third quarter. Later in the period, Lillard hit a 3-pointer over Bryant. On the way downcourt, Kobe impishly grabbed Lillard around the waist, called for the ball, got Lillard in a one-on-one situation and knocked down another fadeaway.
Kobe seemed to be in quite the playful mood. He did a lot of schmoozing with the referees during dead-ball situations. At one point late in the third quarter, he launched a roundhouse hook shot that wasn't close.
All the while, Lillard was laying waste to the Lakers, bombing in 36 points on 14-for-19 shooting, including 5 for 8 from 3-point range. Portland's All-Star point guard had five assists and no turnovers, sitting out the entire fourth quarter with the game no longer in doubt. It was a virtuoso 29-minute performance made easy by the sieve-like defense of the 9-37 Lakers.
"I played the game simply," Lillard said. "I took what they gave me. I made the first couple of pull-up jumpers. Once I saw the ball go in that many times in a row, I knew I was going to be able to get into a good rhythm. The game just flowed easy."
Bryant left the game at the end of the third quarter, with the Lakers trailing 101-76. With five minutes left, the fans began chanting, "We want Kobe!" Then, moments later: "Kobe! Kobe!" It would have been nice if coach Byron Scott had brought him back for a final curtain call, but it was not to be.
After the final horn, Bryant walked toward the Blazers' bench. He hugged Portland forward Ed Davis, a teammate last season with the Lakers. There was a long hug with Lillard, then shorter embraces with McCollum and Portland guard Gerald Henderson.
"He said something about a block I was trying to chase down," said Henderson, like Bryant a Philadelphia native. "He said, 'Your head was up near the rim on that play.' I said, 'I was just trying to be like you when you were younger.'"
Bryant circled back toward the visitors' bench, and a crescendo of applause erupted as those remaining in the sellout crowd of 19,728 rose to their feet to pay their final respects.
Kobe waved to crowd and mouthed "Thank you," touching his heart several times. Then he was through the tunnel and on to the locker room for the final time at Moda.
Henderson, 28, is a decade younger than Bryant.
"I used to go to his games when I was little," Henderson said. "Me and my best buddy, (Brooklyn guard) Wayne Ellington -- Kobe was everything to us growing up. We wanted to be just like him.
"I've played against him a number of times over the years. You always look forward to that. It was pretty cool, man, to play against him and chat a little bit. He got what he deserved, for sure. He has done so much for the league. He has had such a great career. I'm glad people showed their respect for him."
So was Lillard.
"One of the greatest players to play the game was making his last stop here," he said. "I was just grateful and honored to be a part of that."
Bryant told the media mob afterward he was "extremely appreciative" of the warm reception he received at game's end.
"To get that kind of reaction means a lot," he said. "I just wish there were more things I could do to thank them. Here, Sacramento, San Antonio -- those are really special places to me because of the playoff battles we've had."
What did he think of the boos throughout the game?
"That's what it's been my entire career," he said, breaking into a wide grin. "Why would I want it to be any different? Why would the fans want it to be any different? The boos every time I touch it -- I actually love it. One fan at courtside (said), 'Man, I'm going to miss hating you.' I said, 'Thank you. I'm going to miss loving the fact that you hate me.'
The big difference was at the end of the game -- the chants, the mutual respect. (It was like) you can actually show it now, because you know there's no coming back."
An hour after the game, Lillard greeted a long line of well-wishers as he made his way out of the Moda Center. He posed for photos with Lillard and members of his party. Then he headed out the loading dock and onto the bus for the ride to the team hotel.
For Kobe, there will be no coming back to Moda -- as a player, at least. It was fun while it lasted.
NOTES: Portland coach Terry Stotts, asked how he felt about the atmosphere in the arena: "There were too many Laker supporters for my taste, but I'm glad they showed Kobe some appreciation. Maybe a little too much, but " McCollum scored 28 points, making 12 of 21 shots from the field and 4 of 8 from 3-point land. Lillard joins Golden State's Klay Thompson as the only players in the NBA this season with at least 35 points, five 3-pointers and five assists with no turnovers in a game. The only Blazer ever to match those numbers was Brandon Roy in 2008. It was Lillard's 11th game with 30 points or more this season. He passed Jerome Kersey to move into eighth place on Portland's career assists list with 1,765. The Blazers matched a franchise high with their eighth straight win over the Lakers dating to the 2013-14 campaign. The Lakers have lost six in a row and 10 of their last 11. During their losing streak, they have yielded at least 108 points in each game and lost by an average of 18.6 points. Portland stands in 10th place in the Western Conference, trailing eighth-place Sacramento (20-23) by 1 1/2 games and ninth-place Utah (19-24) by a half-game. The Blazers and Kings meet Tuesday night at Moda Center.