The Warriors took a bit to get going, but when they did, the night was a wrap.
Golden State took down the Lakers 116-98 in Kobe Bryant‘s final appearance at Oracle Arena, which was met with nothing but fandom and respect from all sides.
The Warriors led by only three points at the half, and were off their mark for the better part of the first two frames. The first quarter was particularly ugly, and no starter could find their groove on offense or defense.
Golden State started with the ball, and the first attempt at the basket was a Stephen Curry finger roll that couldn’t quite get the right spin, though center Andrew Bogut made it count with a putback.
Brandon Rush missed from distance on the next possession, and then Bogut turned the ball over on the third take.
The Warriors began to click, as did the Lakers, who managed to keep things tight and go blow-for-blow with the defending champs into the second quarter.
It wasn’t until the third quarter that the game finally had some separation, with Curry knocking in 11 and going 3-for-6 from the arc, while also notching two rebounds and two assists.
From that point, it was all Golden State.
When Bryant checked in for the final time at Oracle Arena to a standing ovation, an image of he and Charles Woodson, who was in attendance, appeared on the big screen.
Captioned “24 will never be the same,” it alluded to the end of an era in basketball and football, two of the greatest to ever partake in their games, retire in 2016.
Bryant continued his farewell tour Thursday night, receiving overwhelming applause from the crowd known for its high decibel levels and sometimes over-the-top fans.
And at the end of the night, he sought out forward Draymond Green, perhaps the front runner for the first half MVP and a guy who came into the league while Kobe was starting the process of leaving.
Green sat down at his locker after he was showered and fresh, next to a shiny pair of sneakers with Bryant’s signature on the right shoe, enumerated number 24, and on the left a few words of sage wisdom about greatness.
It was something that most all stars can’t say, that one of the greatest players in basketball history came and tracked them down to say hello.
“It means a lot. That’s a guy that I have the utmost respect for. For everything he’s done for the game. I was a huge fan of Kobe’s growing up, watching him and how he dominated the league. Just to have that moment, I don’t take it for granted because it’s special.”
Green said he never tried to emulate Bryant because he couldn’t emulate Kobe, the two parts of a singular name that are synonymous with international stardom, legendary expertise and precision preparation.
With a grin and his trademark emotion-filled voice that inflects emphasis that the best can’t duplicate, Green said:
“Nothing I do can compare to Kobe Bryant! Absolutely not! I was smart enough to know that I couldn’t be Kobe so I kind of went a different direction and kind of enjoyed Kobe being Kobe.”
Green nor his family could afford Bryant’s jersey, but he would shout “Kobe!” at the park while hooping with the boys, but that’s where it stayed.
Bryant’s influence was clear, his introduction to the Oakland crowd before the game started was second to none, and the reaction was even better.
Few players in any sport receive the kind of applause Bryant got. It was louder that Curry’s, even. Interim head coach Luke Walton said:
“I thought it was nice. I thought it was very respectful of a great crowd to cheer for Kobe like that, and give him a standing-O at the end. … He’s one of the greatest players of all time. Most of us witnessed his whole career, and to me it was beautiful and special whether he made his last shot tonight or not.”
For the record, Bryant missed his last attempt and went 4-for-15 on the night. Something that is easy to observe between Bryant, the Lakers, and the Warriors, is that the tide has shifted from what it once was. What it was for the better part of the last 50 years.
The Warriors always stunk, and the Lakers always seemed to be the odds-on favorite to win the west. Kobe, asked if he feels as though he’s passing the torch, said:
“I think so. It’s their time. It’s their time to step up and play and see how many championships they can win. See how many gold medals they can win. I had my run and now it’s important for them to go ahead and carry it forward.”
Bryant’s last two stops at Oracle have been some of the worst outings of his career, he went 1-for-14 with a pair of steals as Golden State made history with the best start to a season ever.
The vibe from the Warriors locker room, though, is unmistakable: the last chapter, the tour, is reserved only for the great. And Kobe is the best that they have ever watched.
The Warriors were able to limit the minutes of their starters to under 30 for the first time this season, while not refusing to play any of the squad. Green rode pine during the Warriors loss at Denver one night before, and have played five games in the last seven days now. … Golden State is hitting a critical stretch in their schedule, with the Pacers, Cavaliers, Spurs and Thunder upcoming, and not a lot of time to recover properly. … The Warriors’ bench, which received proper kudos from all after the win against the Lakers, is the key to whether Golden State can get through what should be the most difficult stretch of opponents all season. It’s also possible that general manager Bob Myers take a hard look at how the team responds, especially since the run simulates how the Warriors might respond in the postseason.