The Los Angeles Lakers hit the road for the last time this season as Kobe Bryant prepares to say his final goodbyes to his last three NBA cities. Up first, the Lakers travel to New Orleans to face the Pelicans as fans are cherishing their final chances to watch the international icon before he retires from the game on April 13. And although the team will finish with the worst record in franchise history for the third straight season, all the attention is solely focused on Bryant with only four games remaining in his legendary 20-year career.
As for the Pelicans and their first-year head coach Alvin Gentry, this has been a long-lost season for them as the team has been plagued by injuries since before the 2015-16 campaign even started. For tonight’s matchup, they have nine players on the injury list with six of them being done for the year (including Anthony Davis), summing up the tale of the season for the wounded Pelicans. Bryant has had many memorable moments against this franchise (formerly known as the New Orleans Hornets) averaging 26.9 points per game in 40 appearances during the regular season, and he’ll have one more chance to give ‘The Crescent City’ crowd one more memory for the books.
First Quarter: After the Pelicans scored on their first possession, Kobe Bryant let it fly from three and connected on his first shot attempt to tie the game at three. Jordan Clarkson got on the board knocking down a three of his own as both teams exchanged baskets the next few possessions. Bryant, who came out the gate aggressively on offense, missed a wide-open layup after blowing by his defender who made him laugh since he knows his career will be over in less than a week. He’d get his redemption with a little over six minutes remaining hitting two straight jumpers (including his second three-pointer) that would start the ‘Kobe’ chants at the Smoothie King Center. After that second straight basket, the Lakers trailed 12-11. The Pelicans came out of a full timeout and fouled the Lakers on two consecutive possessions as they’d convert on all five free throws (Hibbert was fouled in the paint, and Kobe was fouled on a three). Alexis Ajinca would stop Los Angeles’ 8-0 run by knocking down his fourth field goal of the quarter that moved him into double-figures. The next score came for the Lakers on a Clarkson open floor dunk after Kobe batted a jump ball directly to him that gave them an 18-14 lead. They’d stretch the lead to eight points but not before New Orleans cut it down to two with under a minute to play. Bryant would finish the quarter with a game-high 14 points (hitting another three before the quarter ended) as the Lakers led 27-24 after one.
Second Quarter: Marcelo Huertas began the scoring in the second hitting a mid-range jumper for his first points of the night. Jordan Hamilton followed it up with a layup to make it a three-point deficit again. D’Angelo Russell got his third foul of the game on an offensive foul, but Byron Scott would let him stay in the game, and he’d get on the board on an easy layup. The Pelicans went on a brief 6-0 run after Luke Babbitt, and Tim Frazier hit back-to-back three-pointers. They’d regain the lead after a Laker timeout, but Los Angeles would get back on top as Russell hit a fadeaway jumper with the shot clock expiring. Ajinca stayed hot for the Pelicans hitting another field goal, but Russell followed it up with a jumper of his own to break the 36 tie with 6:28 remaining. Both teams continued trading baskets, but D’Angelo continued to carry the offense for the Lakers scoring 11 straight points for them that moved him up to 13 points (all in the second quarter). After trailing for most of the quarter, the Pelicans regained the lead (48-46) starting with a Jordan Hamilton three that became the start of a 12-0 run to end the quarter. At halftime, the Lakers trailed 55-46 shooting a brutal 31.7 percent from the field.
Third Quarter: Kobe, who didn’t play in the second quarter, air balled the first shot of the quarter, which was followed by three consecutive baskets for the Pelicans. Roy Hibbert stopped the bleeding (which was an 18-0 run) on a 16-foot jumper to cut the lead to 63-50. D’Angelo Russell converted an And-1 opportunity to move him up to 16 points on the night. New Orleans then went on a brief 6-0 run again to give them a 69-53 lead with 7:37 left in the third. Although Clarkson scored an 8-foot jumper off a Kobe Bryant assist, New Orleans would add to it with an 11-0 run that added up to a 17-2 run overall. With the Lakers down 25 and the offensive woes continuing through three quarters, Julius Randle and Larry Nance, Jr. converted on two straight possessions with a little under four minutes remaining. After a pair of made free throws for Toney Douglas, Russell added to his 16 points going on an 8-0 run of his own (hit a three, followed a layup and a sweet crossover jumper) to cut the deficit 17. Luke Babbitt would hit a three (his third of the night) before the quarter ended as the Lakers trailed 87-67 after three played in New Orleans.
Fourth Quarter: Jordan Clarkson hit a 21-foot jumper to begin the fourth quarter, which was immediately topped by a Kendrick Perkins putback. Although Clarkson would heat up from the floor scoring eight of the first 10 Laker points, the Pelicans always had an answer as they couldn’t cut the lead under 16 points. With 7:20 remaining, Bryant checked back into the game thanks to the massive ‘Kobe” chants from the New Orleans’ crowd. Since there’s only three games remaining after this, it makes complete sense that Bryant would want to spend every possible moment out on the floor for both himself and the fans. After a Pelicans’ timeout, D’Angelo Russell would hit his second and third three-pointer of the night to give him a game-high 30 points. Kobe checked out with 4:15 remaining, drawing a huge ovation from both the crowd and the players. With the game out of hand late, Julius Randle and Clarkson scored on back-to-back possessions, followed by two more scores that cut the lead to eight, but that’s the closest they’d get. The Lakers fall in New Orleans, 110-102.
Final: Lakers 102 Pelicans 110