Damian Lillard and Blazers Spoil Lakers Celebration for Kobe Bryant in First Game After Tragedy

AP Photo

The Los Angeles Lakers celebrated Kobe Bryant’s life in many ways except for losing their first game since Bryant died in a helicopter crash with eight others including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna on Jan. 26. 

“It was very emotional. Our guys were teared up going into the jump ball,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said after feeling all the emotion in the 127-119 to the Portland Trail Blazers Jan. 31. “You want to give maximum effort but we had a difficult week.”

L.A. finished with a season-best 61 rebounds and their most fast break points in 2020 with 41 total versus the Blazers. However, Los Angeles shot only 18-of-28 from the free throw line and committed 17 turnovers. Portland, on the other hand, shot 16-of-21 from the line and only turned the ball over five times.

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard led the Trail Blazers past the West’s No. 1 seed with 48 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds in his team’s win at Staples Center Feb. 1.

“I don’t think anybody feels like a winner given the circumstances,” Lillard said after the game. “It’s tough.”

The Portland All-Star scored 23 points alone in the third which helped the Blazers enter the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead they never relinquished.

“Oh, this is the best ball of his career,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said after the game. “… He’s playing at an unbelievably high level.”

Lillard started that third quarter with two three-pointers and an assist in the first four Portland possessions of the second half. He also scored nine consecutive points for the Blazers midway through the third which would eventually give his team an 84-83 advantage as the Lakers tried to make a run.

“Everybody just feels it on the inside,” Lillard said about the sadness surrounding the night despite his team’s great game. “There was nothing to be really super hyped or proud about.”

Blazers big Hasaan Whiteside also came out strong with 30 points and 12 rebounds on 13 of 14 attempts from the field.  C.J. McCollum registered 19 points, 6 rebounds and five assists in Portland’s 22nd win of the year.

Portland forward Carmelo Anthony sat out the game mourning Bryant. That gave extra minutes to former Lakers forward Trevor Ariza who won a Championship with Kobe in 2009.

Ariza finished with 2 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists in 39 minutes. He got traded to the Blazers only ten days ago and also struggled talking about the night with the media afterwards.

“He was like a brother to me. Just like a brother,” Ariza said after the game. “I don’t know what else to say.”

Lakers Play Hard Through Emotions

As for the Lakers, they got strong performances from Anthony Davis and Lebron James. Davis scored the team’s first basket with a powerful dunk that gave the arena some relief.

“I knew the first game was going to be emotional for us regardless,” Davis said speaking honestly about the nerves and anxiety he felt before the first game since Kobe died. “For me it was just play as hard as I can because I know that’s what he would’ve wanted me to do.”

He registered 37 points, on 14-of-22 from the field, along with 15 rebounds, six assists and five blocks.

A. D. also shared a great memory about how Bryant instantly took him under his wing in the Olympics before he even played an NBA game. The Brow shared that Bryant helped him prepare for the pros including how to dress for the game.

Davis told the media about the time he forgot to put his jersey on before a game versus Nigeria. When it was time to go in, he had to go to the bench because all he had on was a white t-shirt.

“He [Kobe] said some more things after that that I can’t repeat but now it’s a thing for my conscience that I always check to see if I have my jersey on,” Davis said remembering Kobe.

Otherwise, Davis and Kyle Kuzma were the first Lakers duo to register at least 15 rebounds since 2013. Kuzma chipped in 17 points off the bench as all eight reserves played in the first half versus the Blazers.

“I just tried to play my heart out,” Kuzma said after the loss and emotional week. “That’s what he [Kobe] did every night and what he would have wanted all of us to do tonight.”

Even after the Lakers loss, James was emotional talking about first meeting Bryant at 15 year-old and getting to know him over the years.

“In all the success he had, five rings, the All-Star game MVPs, the MVP of the league, all-team everything, all-life, all-world, all-basketball, these last three years was the happiest I’ve ever seen him.” James said about Bryant in the post-game press conference.

Still, the King finished with 22 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds after starting the night with an off-script speech about Bryant’s legacy to the Staples Center crowd before tip-off.

James shielded his eyes while speaking to the media after the emotional night and loss.

“Hug the shit of your family,” James said closing his speech about the family sacrifices they make to be great and the biggest lessons Kobe ever taught him.

Kobe Tributes All Night

About 15 minutes before 7 p.m., the Staples center floor turned to purple. The only light that shone highlighted the Lakers logo like a shining star at the center of the Universe. It was the beginning of the many ways the Lakers honored Kobe including placing his numbers and initials on the actual hardwood.

What seemed like the world’s largest violin played as a video montage of Kobe’s words and highlights played in place of the regularly scheduled 7:30 p.m. tip off. Chants of ‘Kobe,’ ‘MVP and ‘Gigi’ sprinkled throughout Usher’s tribute to Bryant with a performance of Amazing Grace. Boys II Men also honored Bryant with a performance of the National Anthem.

Then, it was time to announce the starting five. All five starters were announced as Kobe Bryant. The team took the court to the tune of songs mentioning the late Bryant. There was also a 24.2 second moment of silence for Gigi and Kobe.

At courtside pregame, two seats stayed reserved. Flowers and jerseys of Kobe and Gianna Bryant occupied the seats they sat at the last time they watched a Lakers game together. The jumbo tron showed nothing but a slideshow of Kobe Bryant and the other victims who died in the helicopter crash Jan. 26.

More Kobe Bryant tributes included the team wearing a black “KB” logo on their jerseys. That same logo was on the shirts laid on each seat in the Staples Center. Those shirts bore the No. 8 on the front and No. 24 in honor of Bryant.

Lakers players wore those same throughout warmups. Players like Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis even wore Bryant jerseys on their way into the arena. Lakers coaches all work Kobe’s signature shoe during the game too. Throughout the game video highlights of Kobe’s career played on screens at Staples

Back to Basketball

With 10:32 Anthony Davis blocked a shot and caught an assist for a transition dunk. It was the Lakers first basket but a welcomed sigh of relief for Los Angeles and the Lakers days after

Los Angeles led 62-60 halftime thanks to 20 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 blocks from Anthony Davis at the half. LeBron James chipped in 11 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds.

However, the Blazers got 19 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds in the first half too. Hasaan Whiteside added 13 points and 4 rebounds. CJ McCollum also had 11 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists.

Portland came out strong opening the third with a 10-3 run including two threes from Lillard.

Los Angeles did rally including a three from Anthony Davis that made the game 75-72 with eight minutes left.

Still, they could not find a way to stop Lillard. At one point, he had a three followed with a put back tip. He lost the ball and dunked over three Lakers defenders to bring the Blazers within 77-78

Davis hit a three and converted the free throw to cut the Blazers eight point lead in half with 1:32 left in the third.

With nine minutes left, the Lakers trailed by twelve but fans started chanting Kobe. The result of that possession was a mid range jumper from Kuzma. The Blazers missed and the Lakers were able to convert in transition and cut the lead back to eight at 108-100 with 8:39 left in the fourth.

It felt like the start of the Lakers comeback. James converted a layup and-one that brought that Lakers within six. James missed the free throw but brought the Lakers within three at the 7:39 mark in the fourth a three from the top of the key.

Lillard hit a layup with contact to make the game 112-105 for his Blazers but Davis answered with a corner three on the other end. Los Angeles trailed 108-112 with six minutes left in the fourth.

With 3:11 left in the third, James converted another driving shot as well as the free throw attempt to bring the Lakers within five again. The Blazers answered but the Lakers did toovia a Davis put back dunk.

The Blazers would answer again but so would the Lakers. This time it was Avery Bradley who hit a three-pointer to make the game 121-117.

Lillard again scored giving them a six-point advantage. Whiteside followed that up with a post shot to make it 125-117.

What’s Next for Blazers and Lakers?

Los Angeles will hope to continue the healing process with another game versus the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 1 for a back-to-back. Meanwhile, the Blazers will continue to try and claw their way back into the playoff picture a back-to-back as well versus the Utah Jazz. The Lakers and Trail Blazers will not face each other again this year unless they matchup in the playoffs.

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Pete D. Camarillo is currently a credentialed Lakers writer for SportsOutWest and co-host of the weekly Touchdowns and Tangents podcast. Pete enjoys creating content about music, life and West Coast Sports, specifically the NBA and NFL. He has published more than 1,000 articles across various publications including ClutchPoints, FullPressCoverage, TheSportsDaily, Fansided and Inquistr. Pete is also currently a full-time media relations professional for Business Wire and he is active in ONA, SPJ, NABJ and AAJA organizations in Los Angeles. The 2015 CSUN Journalism grad volunteers on his Journalism Alumni Association Board of Directors now. His background includes community relations with the L.A. Clippers during the 2014-15 season. studying sports management, football coaching and earning a fellowship for his entrepreneurship ventures. Follow him on Twitter @petecertified.

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