Sacramento, CA – The Kobe Bryant farewell tour stopped through Sleep Train Arena for one last time. The vintage Bryant was as good as we’ve seen him in the past but it came in spurts. His send off from a team that was once his biggest rival blew a twenty-point-seven lead before the Kings beat the Lakers 118-115.
“In the second half we got outfought and outhustled,” said Sacramento’s coach George Karl said. “I think we mentally shut down. Maybe we celebrate too much when we are playing really well. I think it’s pretty clear what we have to work on.”
It was probably one of the greatest comebacks of the season and it all went down in the fourth quarter with Bryant on the bench. Rookie D’Angelo Russell scored 11 of his 27 points in the fourth before injuring his ankle in the final minutes of regulation. DeMarcus Cousins who finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds an seven assists sat much of the fourth with 5 fouls.
The Lakers took over and outscored the Kings, 67-49 in the second half. They cut the lead to 9 points after trailing most of the game by 20. Jordan Clarkson had 12 of 15 in the fourth while Lou Williams added 20 points. The lead went back and forth under 3 minutes and the work Sacramento put in early made a difference. Four starters for the Kings where in double-digits.
“We just got aggressive defensively in the second half,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “That was what I talked about at halftime. Just coming out and being more aggressive, being more physical. Picking them up full court like they were picking us up and let’s see what happens and that’s what our guys did. Obviously, it enabled us to get back into the game.”
Rudy Gay scored 18 points, Quincy Acy had a season-high 18 and Ben McLemore had 16 points. But it was Rajan Rondo who made a shot with 21.7 seconds left, giving Sacramento a 116-115 lead. Clarkson then lost the ball driving in the lane fouling Cousins, who made two free throws for a three-point lead with 6.8 seconds left. Rondo had 9 points and 12 assists.
“Kobe was amazing; I tip my hat to him. He had a great game and gave the crowd what they wanted,” said McLemore, who guarded Bryant. “Defending him in his final game in Sacramento was an honor. It’s something I will remember forever.”
But the man of the night laid the foundation early. Bryant who missed the last three games with a sore right shoulder, scored 18 points in the first half. He scored seven points in the first quarter then sat to nurse his ailing shoulder. After that we saw more of the “vintage” Bryant from year’s past adding 11 more points in the second. A driving layup in traffic and an alley-oop dunk brought the sellout crowd to their feet.
Bryant finished with 28 points and sat the entire fourth while the young guys took over after the Kings were outscored 29-16. The tribute Sacramento made to Bryant was moving in his finale game at Sleep Train Arena. During the announcements, the Kings acknowledged all of his accomplishments throughout his career and recalled his first game in the “cow bell” city on December 10, 1996 as a rookie.
“I think he is the best player to come out of high school, “ Karl said before the game. Bryant responded by saying, “I mean it’s tough for me to agree, but I’ll just take the compliment. It would be impolite not to accept the compliment, so I’ll accept it.”
Vlade Divac, president of basketball operations and general manager was traded for Bryant back in 1996 from the Charlotte Hornets. Last night he gave Bryant a Hornets jersey with the No. 8 on it. While Bryant addressed the media after the game, he wasn’t sure which number he would retire as a Laker, No. 8 or No. 24. Playing in his 20th season, Bryant remembered the good times at Arco.
“He gave me a Charlotte Hornets jersey. No. 8,” said Bryant. “It’s awesome. He has a great sense of humor and is a real practical joker. The fans showed a sign of respect, even though we have been enemies for so many years. This has always been a special place, not just for me, but for the city itself. It’s sad to see this place go (for a new arena next year).”