Here it is ladies and gentlemen, the career finale of the one and only Kobe Bryant. The culmination of all the blood, sweat, and tears over the last 20 years comes down to just one last game. Although the event itself has taken on a life of its own, the Los Angeles Lakers will be looking to send the Mamba out in his final game the right way, with a win.
It won’t be easy however, as they square off against a Utah Jazz team that demolished Lakers 123-75 back in late March. The Jazz hit 17-of-32 shots from the three-point line, which spells disaster for this Lakers squad that has struggled to defend the three all season.
But given that is the last time the ultimate competitor will ever grace the hardwood, the stage is set for some Mamba magic.
After an opening ceremony for the ages, the Lakers came out flat on offense as they missed their first six shots before finally getting on the board with a couple of buckets from Roy Hibbert to make it a 6-4 game. After struggling to get his offense going early, Kobe was able to spark his play with a block that led to a pull-up jumper on the other end for his first points of the game. That was all he needed, as the Mamba caught fire by hitting his next four shots in vintage Kobe fashion to take a 16-14 lead. Despite the Mamba surge, the Jazz were able to weather the storm by ending the quarter on a 6-0 run to go up 21-19 at the end of the first quarter.
The Lakers struck first this time to begin the second quarter with a well-designed alley-oop from Marcelo Huertas to Larry Nance Jr. Both teams began to trade buckets as the Lakers took a brief one-point lead after an alley-oop to Clarkson,Trey Lyles then scored five straight for the Jazz to take a 28-25 lead. The Jazz ere able to capitalize on a brief Lakers dry spell by extending their lead back to 37-31 after the easy lay up from Jeff Withey. It wasn’t before long until Kobe checked back in to score six straight points to cut the lead, 43-47. However, the Jazz would quickly take back momentum by going on an 8-0 run extend their lead back to 15. Despite Kobe’s 22 points, Utah ended the half with a comfortable 57-42 lead.
The Lakers were first on the board to start the half on a fadeaway jumper from Russell, before Rodney Hood answered back with a turnaround of his own to maintain a 15-point lead. It was only a matter of time before Kobe would start to heat up again as he hit three straight buckets to cut the Jazz lead to nine, while also giving him 28 points with a little under ten minutes left in the quarter. Gordon Hayward was able to put an end to the run with a three-pointer to extend the lead back to 62-50 with seven minutes left in the third. But the Mamba magic was in full effect as he hit mustered up a 7-0 run on of his own, including his patented baseline fadeaway jumper to slim the margin, 64-59. For every run Kobe made, Utah was able to answer back with a run of their own to maintain their lead. But the Mamba was determined to keep the Lakers within striking distance after finishing at the rim to end the quarter down 75-66.
In Kobe’s final quarter of play, the Jazz came out firing as they hit their first three shots of the quarter to blow open their lead 82-68. The purple and gold answered back with a dunk from Tarik Black, followed by consecutive three-pointers from the Mamba to give him a season-high 43 points, while cutting the lead back down to nine. That sparked the whole Lakers squad after a rejection from Black led to a fast-break alley-oop dunk from Clarkson to Nance to cut the margin, 80-85. Raul Neto briefly stopped the bleeding with a fadeaway jumper before Kobe replied with a pullup jumper to reduce the lead to three with five minutes left in the game. However, the Jazz would not ley up by going on a 6-0 run to increase their lead back to 93-84. In typical Kobe fashion, it was clear he was ready to leave it all out on the floor as he sank two straight buckets to give him 51 points on the game. The magic would not stop as he came back down the floor to hit two more straight shots including a three to give him 56 points on the game, while bringing the Lakers to within one with a minute left to go in his career. Kobe was in full Mamba mode now as he hit yet another jumper off the screen to take a 97-96 lead. In what seemed like a movie script too outrageous for even Hollywood, Kobe Bryant managed to will the Lakers to a 101-96 victory on the back of his 17 straight points in the last five minutes of the game. Kobe finished with an improbable 60 points in his final game.