Thinking of Kobe: Five takeaways from the Lakers’ win over the Cavaliers

Kobe Bryant waits to be introduced before a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center in 2013.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Montrezl Harrell sat down for his post-game Zoom sessions with reporters Monday night tidying up his head attire and answering questions in the process. Three questions into his interview from Cleveland, Harrell pulled up his face mask, and on the front of it were pictures of beloved Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.

It was a young Bryant with hair wearing his gold No. 8 jersey with his arm wrapped around the shoulder of the stately older Bryant wearing his purple No. 24 jersey, both of them smiling.

For Harrell, the anniversary of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others dying in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, remains painful.


But even more difficult for the first-year Lakers center is that Jan. 26 is his birthday, and as Harrell turns 27 on Tuesday, he is at a loss on how to deal with that day.

Kobe Bryant, daughter Gianna and seven others perished in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020. Remembering the Lakers legend a year later.

Jan. 24, 2021

“It hurts me a lot because tomorrow is a day where all this happened and at the same time tomorrow is my birthday as well,” Harrell said. “So, it hurts a lot, because it’s like you want to celebrate your birthday, but it’s just such a tragic loss like this that you don’t know really how to. So, I was really thrown off and really didn’t know how to kind of go about it last year when it very first happened. I haven’t really thought too much about it being my birthday. I know more so about tomorrow is about Kobe.”

Five takeaways from the Lakers’ 115-108 victory over the Cavaliers behind LeBron James’ stellar performance of 46 points.

1. They have been given the day off by Lakers coach Frank Vogel for Tuesday, the date that a year ago Bryant’s helicopter crashed into a Calabasas hillside.

And now they return to the city of Philadelphia, the city the Lakers had left on that exact date last year, when they learned of the horrible news about Bryant while flying home to Los Angeles.

The Lakers stayed over in Cleveland after Monday night’s game and won’t play the 76ers until Wednesday night.


But when the Lakers land in Philadelphia, they will have time to reflect on Bryant and what he meant to them as a mentor, friend and member of the Lakers’ fraternity.

“Um, I don’t know. It’s tough. Like I said, it’s a tough subject for me to talk about,” Kyle Kuzma said in his videoconference. “Um, obviously, going through it right now. You know, it’s been over a whole year since he hasn’t been here, so you try to just make it as normal as possible. … But when you think of the Lakers, you think of him. You just want to play as hard as possible and play with that fire and fierce mentality that he did.”

Highlights from the Lakers’ win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday.

“Um, I mean it’s words that can’t even be described,” Harrell said. “As a person that reached a level of excellence, on and off the court. He handled himself like a businessman off the court, within the court. He built relationships with multiple people and I think we were just starting to see his life really transform into what Kobe could be away from the game of basketball. We already knew who Kobe was in the game of basketball. That’s always going to be here. That’s never going to fade away.

“But it’s just tough because to lose somebody that meant not only a great deal to the game that we love and play, but to lose somebody that’s an iconic person in the world like that.”

2. The Lakers had been stuck on a lead of 97-96 for nearly a minute in the fourth quarter, their offense in neutral.


But Kuzma stepped in with his hustle and determination to help the Lakers break free.

He rebounded a missed shot by Anthony Davis to give the Lakers another possession, which turned into a shot by Harrell that was blocked by JaVale McGee.

Former Clippers assistant Rex Kalamian handled many video duties with the team in 1996 when Kobe Bryant worked out before the NBA draft. Here’s exclusive footage.

Jan. 27, 2021

Kuzma ran down that offensive rebound as well, and then threw a pass to Alex Caruso, who knocked down a three-pointer off the assist.

For the game, Kuzma had six offensive rounds, none bigger than those back-to-back boards. He had eight rebounds total.

He explained why his rebounding game has evolved.

“Well, you know, this year, you know, my scoring opportunities are just very scarce,” Kuzma said. “That’s just the way it is, how our team is built, constructed, where I am. So, I don’t want that to affect how I play and how I contributed to this team. I just try to make an impact to win the game. To me, that’s all it’s kind of has ever been, just try to win games and do whatever I can to leave my imprint on the game and just try to play hard every possession.”

3. The Lakers had seven blocked shots, led by Davis’ three and James’ two.

4. The Lakers shot just 31.3% from three-point range. But James was on fire, going seven-for-11 from long distance.

5. The Lakers improved to 10-0 on the road, the best start in franchise history away from home.