There were just enough moments for Lakers followers to savor — plenty of wham-bam plays and a solid Kobe Bryant effort in the final countdown of his career.
If only there was some defense.
It’s hard to win when you give up 95 points in the first three quarters, a wall the Lakers smacked into as their two-game winning streak bounced to an end.
They stunned the Golden State Warriors and defeated the Orlando Magic, but their fun run fell apart Thursday night in a 120-108 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Bryant’s season-long inaccuracy was not a problem. He scored 26 points on commendable 11-for-16 shooting in his final game against LeBron James.
“It was everything for a competitor like myself and I know for himself,” James said after the game. “I know he was not taking this game off and I definitely wasn’t taking it off, so it was great to be out there for sure.
“For the both of us, we are two sportsmen ... we love the lights and get up for the best moments and for us to give the fans and give our beautiful sport one last opportunity to watch us both on the same floor and give them a show, it was great.”
The Lakers’ other season-long issue hurt them.
They got away with bad defense Sunday against the Warriors, the top team in the Western Conference. It wouldn’t happen against the East’s top team. The Cavaliers’ score-by-quarters showed 33-31-31-25.
Lakers Coach Byron Scott grimaced when asked about it. He said something about the Lakers not sticking to the game plan, and if it called for not getting into a shootout with the Cavaliers, they failed.
The Lakers are 27th in the NBA in defense, giving up 107 points a game.
It didn’t matter that Kevin Love sat out for the Cavaliers (46-18) because of a sore knee. Channing Frye took his spot and scored 21 points, making five of seven three-point shots.
Lakers forward Kobe Bryant and Cavaliers forward LeBron James embrace each other before the start of the game on March 10 at the Staples Center.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Kobe Bryant tries to steal the ball from Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the first half Thursday night.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Kobe Bryant celebrates after scoring against LeBron James and the Cavaliers during the first half Thursday night.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts after a play against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers during the first half.(Danny Moloshok / AP)
Lakers forward Julius Randle dunks against Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson on Thursday night.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Cavaliers forward LeBron James gets a Kobe Bryant elbow to the face during their game Thursday night at Staples Center.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant hug after the Cavaliers defeated the Lakers, 120-108, on Thursday night at Staples Center.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
James (24 points) and Bryant basically canceled each other out. D’Angelo Russell (24) did a nice job of almost matching Kyrie Irving’s output (26 points), though Russell didn’t shoot as cleanly (eight for 19).
Frye and JR Smith (17 points) were the ones who were too much for the Lakers (14-52). It didn’t help that their best player had an off night, Jordan Clarkson scoring five points on two-of-12 shooting.
It was fun to watch the first half. It felt exactly like an All-Star game.
Each team had its mini-shows before Cleveland took a 64-55 edge into the locker room.
Tarik Black turned over the ball in the lane and it was thrown quickly out to Smith, who dribbled downcourt with James and threw an off-the-backboard pass to James for a dunk.
The Lakers weren’t just bystanders at first.
Bryant delighted the Staples Center crowd by hitting fadeaways and connecting on a smooth up-and-under move. Julius Randle (15 points, nine rebounds) had a strong first-quarter dunk after cruising past Smith and beating Tristan Thompson to the rim.
Scott acknowledged feeling like a fan while watching James and Bryant one last time.
“That’s an epic matchup of two of the best,” he said. “Kobe, it seemed like he had a flashback himself.”
John Legend and Chrissy Teigen sit courtside for the final Kobe Bryant-LeBron James matchup on March 10, 2016, at Staples Center.(Danny Moloshok / Associated Press)
Cam Newton takes in the Cavaliers-Lakers game on March 10, 2016, when Kobe Bryant and LeBron James played against each other for the final time.(Harry How / Getty Images)
Beyonce and Jay Z take in the Clippers’ 103-98 comeback victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 2, 2016.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Clippers guard Chris Paul, left, is congratulated by Billy Crystal after a 97-83 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 9.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Jay Z watches the Clippers pick up their 10th consecutive winy with a 104-90 victory over the Miami Heat on Jan. 13.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Freida Pinto and polo player Ronnie Bacardi watch the Lakers play the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 15, 2015.
(Danny Moloshok / AP)
Olivia Wilde talks to Will Forte during a Clippers game against the Orlando Magic on Dec. 5, 2015.(Mike Nelson / EPA)
Jack Black arrives for a Lakers game against the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 20, 2015.(John Salangsang / John Salangsang/Invision/AP)
Drake attends the game between the Lakers and his hometown Toronto Raptors on Nov. 20, 2015.(John Salangsang / Invision)
Will Ferrell has food delivered to his courtside seat during a game between the Lakers and Detroit Pistons on Nov. 15.(Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)
Kendall Jenner watches the Lakers take on the Dallas Mavericks during a game Nov. 1, 2015.(Mike Nelson / EPA)
Arsenio Hall and George Lopez check out a season-opening game between the Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves on Oct. 28, 2015.(Harry How / Getty Images)
Recording artist Snoop Dogg attends a playoff game between the
Actors Billy Crystal, left, and Timothy Olyphant attend a playoff game between the
Actor Eddie Murphy and girlfriend Paige Butcher attend the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the
Actress Mindy Kaling attends a game between the
Bryant or James played in each of the last nine NBA Finals, but they never played against each other in the playoffs.
“There were years where we could have faced each other ... it just never worked out,” Bryant said. “A real rivalry never developed. Rivalries aren’t made in the regular season. ...
“You’ve got to duke it out where it really matters.
“I’m disappointed for the fans because you want to really see that.”
Bryant got a standing ovation when he checked out with 2:10 left.
There are 16 games left in his career, and in the Lakers’ ever-shrinking season.
Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan