It was a back-and-forth contest in the first half, but the Cavaliers took control in the second quarter taking as much as a 10 points lead behind 52.6 percent shooting and made 1o three-pointers.
Cleveland remained in control of the game throughout the second half behind their 3-point shooting knocking 16 on 45.7 shooting. They finished with six players in double figures while hitting 52.9 from the field.
Los Angeles finished a pair of 20-point performances from Bryant with a team-high 26 points and D’Angelo Russell finishing with 24.
The loss snaps a two-game winning streak while Cleveland has won five out of their last six games. Here are five things we learned on Thursday night:
Kobe up for the challenge
With James and the Cavaliers in town, the 37-year-old gave it a go after missing four out of the last six games due to a sore right shoulder, which is an injury that has affected him for much of this season.
The 37-year-old stepped up to the challenge from the get-go by making four out of his first four shots knocking down a couple of a fadeaway jumpers and even got LeBron James to fall for the up-and-under move that gave him an easy layup. He heated up once again in the second quarter scoring knocking down a few more jumpers over James pushing his total up to a team-high 15 points.
Bryant added nine points in the second half, however his shoulder began to bother him late in the fourth quarter. It’s quite clear that his soreness may be worse than what’s being reported as he has been bothered it a lot more as of lately.
That said, Bryant was able to finish with a team-high 26 points on a highly efficient 11-of-16 shooting including 3-of-4 from 3-point range along with five rebounds and two assists. He voiced much pleasure in facing James one last time.
“It’s just fun. I enjoy the physicality of it,” Bryant said. “Playing against him is fun because of his size. It’s always fun to bump with him , to have that physicality of backing him down and driving and bumping It’s fun.”
Bryon Scott also stated that he enjoyed seeing the two future Hall of Famers play against each other over the years.
“I think at times, I even find myself still being a fan because that is an epic matchup of two of the best ever,” Scott said. “Kobe seemed to like he had a flashback himself. I think it was fun for both guys as well.”
Since returning to the starting lineup nine games ago, Russell has been quite productive averaging 20.7 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.1 rebounds while shooting 48.2 percent from both the field and 3-pointer.
He added another strong performance against Cavaliers with 24 points including four 3-pointers and five assists. The 20-year-old was aggressive in the first quarter scoring 10 points in the first nine minutes of the game making shots from a variety of spots knocking down such as a fadeaway jumper, a three-pointer, and a couple of easy layups from his off-the-ball movement.
Russell picked it up in the third quarter scoring 1o points that included a pair of 3-pointers. He continued to score in all facets of the game with most of his production coming from beyond the arc.
“We all struggled to make shots,” Russell said. “Fortunately, I made a few more, but offensively we struggled.”
It marked his seventh 20-plus point output since being reinserted back into the starting lineup. Russell has become a consistent source of offensive production over the last couple of weeks, and will have a chance to build on that over the remainder of the season.
James fills it up
Entering Thursday’s tilt, James is in the midst another MVP-caliber season averaging 24.9 points on 50.4 percent shooting with 7.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.4 steals per game, making him the only player this season shooting over 50 percent from the field with averaging at least 20.0 points, 6.0 assists, and 7.0 rebounds.
James once again filled the stat sheet against the Lakers scoring 24 points with seven assists and five rebounds. He had an impressive dunk in the second quarter throwing down an alley-oop dunk in transition that required him to adjust in mid-air. He added another highlight-reel worthy dunk later in the quarter with a thunderous one-hand slam.
The four-time NBA MVP helped keep the Cavaliers comfortably ahead in the second half scoring points, including tying Kevin Johnson for 19th all-time with 6,711 career assists.
James has been as consistent as they come this season scoring at least 20 points in 51 games and notching 30 or more points 13 times this season. He has also had at least 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists in 30 games while shooting 50 percent or greater from the filed on 36 occasions.
Following the game, James stated that this was a highly competitive game between him and Bryant despite it being the final time.
“I know he was not taking this game off, for sure, and I definitely wasn’t not taking it off, so it was great to be out there,” James said.
Cavs light it up from downtown
The largest difference of margin in Thursday’s game was the Cavaliers’ shooting from 3-point range knocking down 45.7 on percent shooting against the Lakers.
Cleveland was on fire in the first half making 10 shots from downtown with Channing Fyre leading the way by hitting his first four attempts. This offensive barrage from deep continued in the final two quarters adding six more field goals. At one point, half of their points came directly from three-point range.
It marked the 35th time that they have hit 10 or more 3-pointers and was the sixth time with 15-plus made from beyond the arc. J.R. Smith and Fyre were responsible for most of the production combining for nine makes.
Prior to Thursday night, the Cavaliers ranked fifth in the league at 10.1 three-pointers per game while holding the 10th highest percentage at 35.6.
“We just didn’t stick to the game plan, especially to start the game,” Scott said. “Especially Channing Fyre and some of that coverage that we had, we kind of let him get loose. He had a big night and that was basically the x-factor. I’m disappointed in that aspect of it because we didn’t stick to what we had been doing and what we talked about.”
Irving picks up the slack
With Kevin Love out of the lineup due to a sore left knee, Irving picked up a larger offensive role and he responded by scoring a team-high 26 points with nine assists.
He was active in the first half notching nine points while dishing out six assists. Irving did most of his damage in the final two quarters scoring 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting scoring on regardless of who covered him.
Irving has been a consistent offensive force for the Cavalier since returning in December averaging 19.6 points and 4.5 assists in his first 37 games prior to playing against the Lakers. This includes topping 20 or more points in a season-high six straight games and 15 out of the last 19 games ahead of Thursday night.
Bob Garcia IV
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