When Kobe Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, Luke Walton, now the coach of the Lakers, was still trying to make his way in his third season of the NBA.
He watched the game later that same night and was awestruck. To commemorate the moment, he borrowed a ticket from a family member who attended the game.
“I brought the ticket to practice the next day and had him sign it like I was one of the fans,” Walton said. “… It was obviously amazing to be part of but I didn’t realize the greatness of what was going on until after the game.”
What Bryant taught Walton, more than anything else, was to not give up on a game. Walton said playing with Bryant changed the way he thought about deficits — Bryant always felt he could fix any dearth. That’s part of why Walton wanted his team to see the jersey retirement ceremony for Bryant at halftime of Monday’s game. The adoration heaped upon Bryant, what he earned with all of his basketball accomplishments, that is something he wants some of these players to aspire to.
As if there wasn’t enough happening Monday night at Staples Center, the scheduled basketball game, a side dish the jersey retirement ceremony, turned into quite the entertaining show.
The Lakers will see the Warriors again at the end of the week — the toughest week they’ll have all season. Here are five takeaways from Monday night’s 116-114 overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors.
1. We saw again that the Lakers get up for big moments. Sure, the Warriors were without two All Stars in Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. But since they lost Curry, they’ve played exceptionally well and haven’t lost. Just playing the Warriors alone might have been enough, but the buzz in the building was greater because of the halftime ceremony. They played in front of Bill Russell, Allen Iverson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. “It was a great night of basketball,” Walton said. Except for the loss, he clarified.
2. Free throws, free throws, free throws. “We lost today by two points and we missed 13 free throws,” Kyle Kuzma said. “So, go figure.” He’s right, of course. The Lakers shot 62.9% from the free throw line, and it’s been a problem all season. The Lakers’ other problem — turnovers — was minimal Monday night. They only turned the ball over 12 times, an exceptionally low number for them this season.
3. Kuzma had his fifth game in which he scored 20 or more points. He led the team with 25. Five 20-plus-point games as a reserve is the third most of any player in the league, tied with his teammate Jordan Clarkson. Only Lou Williams and Tyreke Evans have more.
4. Durant and Klay Thompson began the night shooting very poorly. They were a combined 12 of 51 at one point. Overall, Walton was pleased with how the Lakers played Durant, but he still scored 36 points and hit the game-winner. Durant’s play has been a big part of why the Warriors have been able to withstand losing Curry.