Short of winning a title (ala John Elway), Kobe Bryant left the game in the best way possible.
Bryant had Staples Center standing and at full throat one last time as he scored 60 points — including hitting the go ahead and dagger shots late — to give the Lakers a win against Utah.
After the game, he spoke to the crowd. Not long after, still wearing a jersey he admitted he didn’t want to take off, Bryant came in and talked to the media about this game and his journey through two decades in the league. Here are a few highlights of what was a nearly 30-minute press conference.
Starting Saturday, no key players sitting for rest. No players taking mental vacations for a night… well, fewer players taking mental vacations for a night. More focused game plans and the chess match of adjustments. Crowds that are into the game and loud. We’re ready for all of it.
Here is the full schedule for the first round of the playoffs. Set your DVRs accordingly.
All times listed are Eastern, and the television broadcast is listed where it’s known. The asterisk means “if necessary.”
Golden State vs. Houston
Game 1 – Sat April 16 at Golden State 3:30PM ABC
Game 2 – Mon April 18 at Golden State 10:30PM TNT
Game 3 – Thu April 21 at Houston 9:30PM TNT
Game 4 – Sun April 24 at Houston 3:30PM ABC
Game 5 * Wed April 27 at Golden State TBD
Game 6 * Fri April 29 at Houston TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 1 at Golden State TBD
San Antonio vs. Memphis
Game 1 – Sun April 17 at San Antonio 8:00PM TNT
Game 2 – Tue April 19 at San Antonio 9:30PM TNT
Game 3 – Fri April 22 at Memphis 9:30PM ESPN
Game 4 – Sun April 24 at Memphis 1:00PM ABC
Game 5 * Tue April 26 at San Antonio TBD
Game 6 * Thu April 28 at Memphis TBD
Game 7 * Sat April 30 at San Antonio TBD TNT
Oklahoma City vs. Dallas
Game 1 – Sat April 16 at Oklahoma City 9:30PM ESPN
Game 2 – Mon April 18 at Oklahoma City 8:00PM TNT
Game 3 – Thu April 21 at Dallas 7:00PM TNT
Game 4 – Sat April at Dallas 8:00PM ESPN
Game 5 * Mon April 25 at Oklahoma City TBD
Game 6 * Thu April 28 at Dallas TBD
Game 7 * Sat April 30 at Oklahoma City TBD TNT
L.A. Clippers vs. Portland
Game 1 – Sun April 17 at L.A. Clippers 10:30PM TNT
Game 2 – Wed April 20 at L.A. Clippers 10:30PM TNT
Game 3 – Sat April 23 at Portland 10:30PM ESPN
Game 4 – Mon April 25 at Portland 10:30PM TNT
Game 5 * Wed April 27 at L.A. Clippers TBD
Game 6 * Fri April 29 at Portland TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 1 at L.A. Clippers TBD
Cleveland vs. Detroit
Game 1 – Sun April 17 at Cleveland 3:00PM ABC
Game 2 – Wed April 20 at Cleveland 8:00PM TNT
Game 3 – Fri April 22 at Detroit 7:00PM ESPN
Game 4 – Sun April 24 at Detroit 8:30PM TNT
Game 5 * Tue April 26 at Cleveland TBD
Game 6 * Thu April 28 at Detroit TBD
Game 7 * Sat April 30 at Cleveland TBD TNT
Toronto vs. Indiana
Game 1 – Sat April 16 at Toronto 12:30PM ESPN
Game 2 – Mon April 18 at Toronto 7:00PM NBA TV
Game 3 – Thu April 21 at Indiana 7:30PM NBA TV
Game 4 – Sat April 23 at Indiana 3:00PM TNT
Game 5 * Tue April 26 at Toronto TBD
Game 6 * Fri April 29 at Indiana TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 1 at Toronto TBD
Miami vs. Charlotte
Game 1 – Sun April 17 at Miami 5:30PM TNT
Game 2 – Wed April 20 at Miami 7:00PM NBA TV
Game 3 – Sat April 23 at Charlotte 5:30PM TNT
Game 4 – Mon April 25 at Charlotte TBD
Game 5 * Wed April 27 at Miami TBD
Game 6 * Fri April 29 at Charlotte TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 1 at Miami TBD
Atlanta vs. Boston
Game 1 – Sat April 16 at Atlanta 7:00PM ESPN
Game 2 – Tue April 19 at Atlanta 7:00PM TNT
Game 3 – Fri April 22 at Boston 8:00PM ESPN2
Game 4 – Sun April 24 at Boston 6:00PM TNT
Game 5 * Tue April 26 at Atlanta TBD
Game 6 * Thu April 28 at Boston TBD
Game 7 * Sat April 30 at Atlanta TBD TNT
It had been rumored that Sam Mitchell was on shaky ground as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves head coach — when the owner gives the GM a public vote of confidence saying he will be on the job at least through the summer, but won’t do that for you, it’s not a good sign.
But Minnesota moved more quickly than expected and let Mitchell go just hours after the team’s final game this season (a 144-109 victory against New Orleans).
The Minnesota Timberwolves have announced Sam Mitchell has been relieved of his interim head coaching duties effective immediately
Minnesota was 29-53 under Mitchell this season, who had to step in as head coach when Flip Saunders had to step away due to the illness that, not much later, took his life. The Timberwolves had a solid offense and improved over the course of the season — highlighted by a late-season victory over the Warriors — but the team had a bottom five defense.
Minnesota will be able to get interviews with the biggest name coaches available — Scott Brooks and Tom Thibodeau would take a long look at this job if offered, for example. Owner Glen Taylor also is rumored to like the idea of giving that kind of coach final say on player personnel, ala Stan Van Gundy or Doc Rivers. GM Milt Newton will stay on in his job, but depending on the coaching hire could have a new boss.
Kobe Bryant exits NBA stage in most Kobe way possible, drops 60 points in finale
Kobe Bean Bryant walked away from the NBA in about the most Kobe way possible — he scored 60 points, he shot the ball fearlessly (contested or not, just like always) and hit the dagger shots (a three to give the Lakers a lead with 59 seconds left), leading the Lakers to a win over Utah.
“The thing that had me cracking up all night long was the fact I go through 20 years of everybody screaming to pass the ball, then on the last night they’re like ‘don’t pass it,'” Kobe said with a laugh, addressing the crowd after the game.
It was a night about passion in Los Angeles. It was where Kobe’s passion for and dedication to the game was celebrated. And it was a night that Lakers’ fans’ passion for Kobe was abundantly evident — from the volume inside Staples Center, the signs and the people in tears, to the thousands outside the building on the street who just wanted to be in the area on this night.
“I can’t believe this happened, this is crazy to me,” Kobe said of his final evening in a Lakers’ uniform. “There’s no way I could possibly imagine this happening. I’m just deeply honored by the fans, to be able to put on that kind of show for them, for them, because of all the support they have given me, because of how we grew up together, fans who have been coming here since Day 1. So to give them this type of show in the last one means everything.”
Those fans wanted to celebrate one of the greatest Lakers of all time and one of the greatest players of all time — five titles, third all-time on the NBA scoring list, an MVP and two Finals MVP, 18 All-Star Games, and the list goes on and on. It was the night where a guy who had spent a 19-year career fostering a reputation as a villain was celebrated as a hero. Kobe said for all of his career, at least up until this season when the smiles came out, he embraced that hatred from opposing fans (and a few in L.A.).
“(The hatred) was extremely necessary, because that is what I fed off of,” Bryant said. “At that time, to be embraced, that would have been like kryptonite for me. The darkness, those dark emotions, that’s what I used to drive me.”
This night, he rode the wave of love to one of his highest scoring games ever. Who cares if it took 50 shots, this wasn’t about efficiency, it was about the spectacle and the story. People wanted to see vintage Kobe — the pull-ups, the jumpers over a double-team that would get a normal player benched. This was a 37-year-old man who by the end of the game was completely gassed, but was still taking over an NBA game.
His final game was Kobe’s sixth 60-point game of his career, but it didn’t feel like it would be anything like that early. Kobe seemed off, and the game itself was just a sloppy mess.
The fans were desperate to cheer anything Kobe, groaning with every miss when he started 0-of-5 from the floor, his jumper hitting the front rim. But defense sparked offense — he stripped Gordon Hayward, which was followed by a bucket on the other end — and the building erupted. After that Kobe knocked down a jumper. Then drew an and-1 driving the lane.
That’s when the “Ko-be, Ko-be” chants started.
Soon after came a couple of threes and it sounded like an NBA Finals game in Staples.
The fans only wanted one thing — and Kobe was more than willing to oblige. Especially as his teammates kept feeding him the rock and setting screens to get him space.
“We switched a lot of things, and he got some good looks, he got some tough looks,” Utah’s Gordon Hayward said. “I think for the most part we played pretty decent defense on him. He didn’t get too many easy buckets, but that’s Kobe.”
“I’ve never seen it, never witnessed it, never been a part of something like that…” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “That man gave everything he had for 20 years, and he did it again tonight.”
In doing so, Kobe created a new part of his legend.
Which is all the fans had wanted to see one last time.
Watch Kobe Bryant’s farewell address to fans at Staples Center
A man who had spent 19 seasons cultivating and embracing a villain persona clearly was enjoying the positive, love-filled vibes that overflowed in Staples Center as Bryant dropped 60 on Utah in his final game in the NBA. It was a storybook ending, one that seemed too perfect.
You can see how Kobe is soaking all of that in as he addressed the fans at Staples Center following his final game. He thanked them — and they reciprocated the feeling.