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Column: Inspired by Kobe, Lakers showcase their full might against Trail Blazers

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates after scoring a three-point basket.
The Lakers’ LeBron James, top left, celebrates with teammates Anthony Davis, left, and JaVale McGee after making a three-pointer during a 135-115 playoff win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.
(Kim Klement / Associated Press)

Happy Mamba Day!

The Lakers strapped themselves to Kobe Bryant’s memory and flew.

On 8/24, the Portland Trail Blazers needed 911.

Back in Los Angeles on Monday, where it was officially Kobe Bryant Day in honor of his two uniform numbers, a downtown stretch of Figueroa Street was given his name. Meanwhile, in a gym near Orlando, Fla., the Lakers simply memorialized him by paving over all of Oregon.

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More impressive than their sleek Mamba jerseys were all those furiously beating Mamba hearts. Inspired by the most merciless Lakers closer, the Lakers unforgivingly wiped out the Blazers in the fourth game of their first-round playoff series, taking a three-games-to-one lead in a 135-115 mismatch that was almost literally over before it started.

Fifteen to nothing. That’s how it began. That’s how it essentially ended. That’s exactly how Kobe Bryant would have wanted it.

“We all know that he would want us to keep our foot on the gas even though we won two in a row. That’s what we’re going to try to approach this game as,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said beforehand of Bryant, and that’s precisely what happened.

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Game starts. Anthony Davis swishes a jumper. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drains a three. Davis blocks a shot. LeBron James drives and sinks a free throw. Davis goes to the floor and throws the ball over his head to set up Danny Green for a drive and another free throw. James hits a long three. Green hits a three. Davis hits a jumper.

Blazers do nothing. Seriously, nothing.

By the time CJ McCollum breaks up the shutout with a jumper with 7:44 remaining, the Blazers already have been deflated into submission. With 4:58 left in the quarter, Caldwell-Pope makes a layup and the gym is suddenly shrouded with an eerie inspiration.

The score is 24-8.

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LeBron James points skyward before Game 4 against the Portland Trail Blazer.
Lakers star LeBron James points skyward before Game 4 against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.
(Kevin C. Cox / Associated Press)

“I did notice,” James said. “When I looked up there and see 24-8, I was like, OK, he’s here in the building.’”

The rout continues, as there is seemingly nothing the Blazers can do to stop this barrage of drives and kicks and threes and effort. Just for yucks, the Lakers officially clinch it at halftime when James ends the second quarter by driving through three Blazers for a howling layup to give them an 80-51 lead, the most points in a half in the NBA playoffs in four years.

The Lakers roll through the second half. JR Smith actually hits a late three-pointer to provide perfect punctuation, and, let’s face it, everyone saw this coming.

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Bryant would have turned 42 on Sunday. It was his anointed day Monday. The Lakers have been fueled by his memory since Bryant and daughter Gianna were among nine people to die in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash. This was their first chance to show it in a big game on a national stage.

They wanted to not only win and take a commanding series lead, but they wanted to do it while squelching the upstart Blazers’ will. That is what Bryant would have done. Kobe knew how to finish. His teams won 13 of the last 16 playoff series in which he played. He was 5-1 overall in Game 7s.

“The emotional aspect did feel different than any other game we played since we’ve been in the bubble,” Vogel said. “Obviously Kobe is dearly missed, and to have a game on 8/24 ... all of us in our whole organization, particularly our players, felt that and carried that emotion on to the playing court.”

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First, they honored him with the special black-and-gold Mamba jerseys. The design was Bryant’s. The heart patch with the No. 2 was for Gianna.

Then they honored him with how they filled those jerseys with sweat stains and floor burns and relentless fight.

“Kobe made it cool as hell to be a Laker,” Vogel said. “He just had that swag about him. He really embodied this organization. He’s the greatest Laker of all time.”

Magic Johnson fans will argue the second part of that quote. But one cannot debate the first part.

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On this most perfect of nights, in a perfect tribute to Kobe, it was indeed cool as hell to be a Laker.

James had 30 points in 28 minutes while missing only two of a dozen shots. Davis scored a point a minute in 18 minutes. Kyle Kuzma got hot, Dwight Howard got tough and everyone got nasty, with nine blocked shots and a defense that contributed to 17 Blazers turnovers.

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Highlights from the Lakers’ win over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 4.

James said he couldn’t really enjoy the victory because of Sunday’s horrific police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. During his postgame news conference, as he often does, he admirably made a passionate plea for racial justice.

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“Quite frankly, it’s just [messed] up in our community,” he said, later adding, “I know people get tired of me saying it, but we are scared as a Black people in America. ... We are terrified.”

Nonetheless, he was able to see through his pain to recognize the symbolism of the Mamba moment.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful night for our franchise, something that we’ll probably always remember,” he said.

Shortly after Bryant’s death, it was written here that these Lakers had the unique opportunity to give Bryant’s memory the sixth championship ring he long coveted. Rather than sag under the burden of such a responsibility, the Lakers have carried it with strength and grace and now are one win from taking the first step toward making it happen.

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The Mamba Mentality marches on.

Plaschke reported from Los Angeles.

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