Kobe Bryant and Boston say goodbye to each other in 112-104 Lakers victory
Leave it to Boston Celtics fans to create a distinctive goodbye, booing Kobe Bryant whenever he touched the ball.
Leave it to Bryant to one-up them with his own farewell, hitting a late three-pointer and walking off the court to chants of his name in the Lakers’ 112-104 victory at TD Garden.
It was a festive final game for Bryant here, enjoyable even for a player who made five of 18 shots.
This is one of those rare venues for Bryant. He studies the banners in the rafters, often scans the green-tinted crowd. He hates it but reveres it, and on Wednesday was rewarded for it.
He was cheered overwhelmingly during pregame introductions, the scattered boos not enough to own the moment.
“I wish I could do more to show my gratitude. I’ll just try to say ‘thank you’ as much as I possibly could,” said Bryant, who scored 15 points.
Celtics fans, though, weren’t done with him.
They booed when he shot a free throw. When he received a pass. When he methodically backed defenders down in the post.
They paid their respect by cheering him before tip-off and then reality returned.
“As soon as I touched the ball and they booed, I was like, ‘Ah, I’m home,’ ” Bryant said.
While Bryant struggled with his shot, three young Lakers put dents in the box score: Jordan Clarkson had 24 points, D’Angelo Russell added 16 and Julius Randle had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Bryant, though, hit a 28-foot three-pointer with 1:40 to play, giving the Lakers a 107-102 lead.
Afterward, Celtics players lined up to hug him. He clasped his hands together and took a bow before walking off the court.
The Celtics, borrowing a page from how they honored Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at his final game here in 1988, privately gave Bryant a framed slab of parquet long before tip-off. It was from their court at the 2010 NBA Finals, when the Lakers outlasted them in seven physically grinding games.
“In recognition of your many legendary performances on the Parquet floor…From your friends and rivals, The Boston Celtics,” the inscription read.
Bryant wasn’t very successful in the 2008 NBA Finals, helplessly watching Boston players dance on the bench when they won the series-clinching Game 6 by 39 points.
He had his moments here, including a 43-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist effort in January 2007 that drove Boston to a franchise record-tying 13th consecutive loss.
The adulation Bryant received late in that game prompted longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti to say incredulously, “It’s the most amazing feat in basketball that won’t ever show up in the record books: Boston fans yelled ‘M-V-P’ for our guy.”
Bryant might have booed himself in the first half Wednesday. He missed his first eight shots before making a driving layup with 3:57 left in the second quarter.
His shoulder continues to bother him, presenting almost a numb feeling. It’s not believed to be serious but it’s the same one that ended his 2014-15 season in January because of a torn rotator cuff.
As if it could stop him from playing one last time here.
“It’s a weird feeling, walking across center court and looking down at that logo,” he said, and was that a hint of nostalgia from a guy who swore there would be none on his retirement tour?
“Just tried to cherish it as much as possible,” he said.
The Lakers improved to a troubling 6-27. The Celtics (18-14) are a fringe playoff team, little more. Bryant, ever the optimist, looked forward to the franchises one day meeting again in the Finals.
“You can trust the sports gods to line these teams up again,” he said. “Whether it’s 20 years from now, 30 years from now, who knows? But it’s going to happen again. And when it does, we’ll all sit back and enjoy it.”
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