Blazers beat Los Angeles Lakers in their first game since the death of Kobe Bryant

by Kevin Nesgoda

For the first time since the death of Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers took the court against the Portland Trail Blazers. Being down in LA in the days after I’ve never seen the city more together and more unified. The love the entire city of Los Angeles, Southern California — hell, the world has shown for Kobe, Gianna, and the other seven people who perished on that mountainside on Sunday.

Kobe Bryant decal on the court at Staples Center.

The city is more lit up than the entire holiday of Christmas. There is more purple and gold all over Los Angeles than a victory parade. Usher did an amazing rendition of “Amazing Grace” as the start of the tribute to Kobe. Spotlights showed brightly on the retired jerseys of #8 and #24 up in the rafters of Staples. Ben Hong then played the background cello as a highlight video of Kobe played.

I don’t know why, but this all feels way to surreal. It’s hard to imagine that Kobe Bryant is gone. I wasn’t a fan of Kobe growing up, but seeing him evolve from an arrogant kid to an amazing father and Oscar winner. Being a Sonics fan and watching him destroy the Sonics over and over again. Like the time he dropped the eight three-pointers (a record at the time) in the middle of his feud with Ray Allen.

It’s time for the game.

The Lakers win the tip and LeBron James takes the 24-second violation to start the game. Damian Lillard took the 8-second violation. There is this weird energy to start the game. The Lakers are definitely off. The building is pretty quiet to boot. I thought things would be a lot more raucous.

A note that Carmelo Anthony did not travel with the team tonight as he is grieving still. Wenyen Gabriel got the start in his stead tonight. He’s playing really hard tonight. I’ve always liked this kid’s game. He will be a solid role player

Lillard and CJ McCollum have started off the game by attacking the middle of the Lakers’ defense. Getting in and around the paint to make some easy baskets to get themselves an early lead. LeBron and Anthony Davis combine for a couple of dunks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hits a three to give the Lakers a 23-19 lead with just over three minutes left in the first quarter.

Nassir Little checks into the game and hits back to back threes. His shot has really been improving as the season has gone on. I knew he was raw and it’d take a little time for him to adjust to the speed of the game. He’s definitely the starting small forward of the future. He might not be a superstar, but I have a feeling he’s going to be really good.

Anthony Davis has his shot dialed in. He has 18 points in the first quarter. He’s doing this with tears in his eyes.

CJ McCollum knocks down a three and the Blazers have a two-point lead, 38-36 lead after one.

The second quarter has not started well. It’s a lot like the start of the first quarter. Things are off. LeBron James outside of two dunks is not playing like the normal LeBron. He has six assists and is finding Dwight Howard abusing Caleb Swanigan in the paint for two of those.

This second quarter has been pretty painful to watch. The Lakers have thrown no less than seven passes straight to the Blazers in the first half. It’s bad. It’s not like miscommunication either. It seems like they are deliberately passing the Blazers the ball. LeBron has missed a few easy layups too.

Side note: What the hell is Kyle Kuzma doing with his hair?

Now that Damian Lillard is back in the game the Blazers are scoring points again and have retaken the lead at 58-56. A crap call on Trevor Ariza allows Avery Bradley to sink two free throws to give the Lakers a 62-60 lead at the halftime. Blazers did a great job limiting what Anthony Davis did in the second quarter, holding him to only two points.

There was a scary moment just before the half where Davis did block a Damian Lillard shot. Lillard went hard to the ground and looked like his head bounded off the court. Upon replay review, it didn’t, but he did land hard.

Damian Lillard collects himself after a hard shot from Anthony Davis. Photo courtesy of Bruce Ely.

We start the third quarter with a dunk by Hassan Whiteside for a dunk to tie the game at 62 and LeBron answers with a three. Wenyen Gabriel delivers a great hustle play that leads to Damian Lillard tying it up at 65. Man, Staples feels like a, and I’m sorry for saying this, a morgue.

Logo Lillard has shown up in LA, he knocks down two long-range threes to get the Blazers a five-point lead. Mario Hezonja checks in and Terry Stotts puts him on Anthony Davis who scores seven of the next ten points of the game. Danny Green scored the other three thanks to a foul from Hezonja.

I always want Hezonja to be good, he has the talent to be good. We have seen flashes of him being good. He got drafted top five. With about four minutes left in the third, he blows a wide-open layup. Like wide open and the ball wasn’t even remotely close to going in. The Blazers need to find someone to take Mario’s minutes at the deadline.

Maybe we can get a little more Nassir Little.

The refs are off in this quarter. Lillard got fouled hard on three straight possessions, twice going to the basket and he took a charge which was called a block. He then got mad. Like real mad.

How mad?

That’s how mad he got. He then got a four-point play and hit another three to give the Blazers another lead. At this point, he has 23 points in the quarter and 42 for the game. He has erupted since he got the technical foul. The Lakers have resorted to triple-teaming him as soon as he comes across the halfcourt line. This allows for Gary Trent Jr. to get a wide-open shot from 16 feet and the Blazers are the first to 100.

The Blazers take a 103-96 lead into the fourth quarter. The lead should have been bigger, but a dumb play by Swanigan allowed Davis to get a four-point play and Kyle Kuzma (and his stupid hair) is killing the Blazers on the offensive glass.

What we have learned, well should have learned is not to make Damian Lillard mad. My wife says Portland is being a little rude beating up on the Lakers in the game.

Blazers push their lead up to 12 in the first three minutes of the fourth. The Lakers continue to look out of sorts. It’s not like they had been playing all that great before the death of Kobe Bryant.

Pope, Kuzma and LeBron James have cut the lead down to three. Damian Lillard is now back in the game. This is a typical Blazers game this year. They have not been able to sustain leads when Lillard is on the bench. You know the other team is going to make a run when Dame is on the bench. You just hope it’s not too big and Lillard has enough gas to finish out the game.

Hassan Whiteside is having another quiet 22 points, 10 rebounds, and five block night. He’s been so solid for the Blazers this year. He should be the defensive player of the year.

Kyle Kuzma has been a menace all night for the Lakers. He’s been the biggest reason that the Lakers are not down more than twenty in the fourth. Anthony Davis is having a big scoring night, but Kuzma is making all the big rebounds and getting crucial baskets.

The Lakers kept making plays to get themselves back into the game, but the Blazers always had an answer. A Hassan Whiteside fadeaway 15-foot baseline jumper put the Blazers up 125-117 with 52 seconds remaining. Lillard puts the Blazers up 10 with 30 seconds left to seal the win.

Damian Lillard 48 points, 10 boards, and nine assists, Whiteside had 30, 12, and five, CJ had 19, and Gary Trent Jr. had 10 off the bench. Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 37.

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