Kobe Bryant - LeBron James. Two legends. Two champions. Two all-time greats who will never face off against each other again. This game was circled on everybody's calendars from the minute Kobe Bryant announced his decision to hang up his shoes at the end of the season. The game did not disappoint by any means, with the Cleveland Cavaliers beating the Los Angeles Lakers by a score of 120-108 on Thursday night.
The atmosphere was electric, and Staples Center was, of course, packed full of fans wanting to catch a glimpse of both of these legendary players. With Kobe Bryant sitting out Tuesday's game, questions arose as to whether he would suit up against Cleveland. Still nursing that ailing right shoulder, the Black Mamba gave it a go and everybody in the arena enjoyed every second these two were on the floor together.
LeBron James added his thoughts on the game that will be remembered for years to come.
Even Cavaliers head coach, and former Laker, Tyronn Lue had some thoughts to share about Kobe Bryant.
Cavaliers Offense Too Much for L.A.
The Cavaliers were without former UCLA star Kevin Love, who sat out on Thursday with a sprained knee. For the Cavs, the absence of Love didn't matter too much for them. Channing Frye stepped in and got the start and performed well, totaling 21 points and seven boards on 8-10 from the field. In fact, every Cavaliers starter finished the game in double-digit scoring.
Kyrie Irving led all Cavs scorers with 26 points on 11-20 shooting to go with his nine assists. LeBron James finished with 24 points (which so happens to be Kobe Bryant's jersey number) on 9-18 from the field with five boards and seven dimes.
J.R. Smith added 17 points on a 5-10 clip, while Tristan Thompson added a double-double, going for 10 points and 14 rebounds. Backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova added 11 points off the bench on 4-9 from the field. Delly's 11 bench points were as many as the rest of the Cavaliers' bench combined.
Cleveland shot a smoldering 45 percent from beyond the arc, as Frye, Smith, and Delly combined to shoot 12-19 from three point land. The Cavaliers actually led the Lakers in every statistical category except for two: steals and free throw percentage.
LeBron James had the tough task of guarding Kobe for most of the night, as the Mamba squared up against King James for one last time. LeBron loved every second of it, just like he always does.
Kobe Bryant Shines Once Again
After sitting out on Tuesday night, the uncertainty and the rumors regarding Kobe's status swirled in the air and on social media for the past few days. It wasn't until less than an hour before tip-off when it was reported that Kobe Bryant would play. For a guy who has been nagged by a shoulder injury ever since the start of the calendar year, you wouldn't have even known based on his performance Thursday night.
Kobe led all Lakers' scorers with 26 points on the night on an 11-16 clip, including 3-4 from beyond the arc. Kobe time and time again battled James down low, posting him up and pump-faking him repeatedly.
Bryant wasn't the only Laker to have an efficient outing against the defending Eastern Conference champs. Rookie D'Angelo Russell scored 24 points on 8-19 from the field and 4-10 from beyond the arc, to go with four boards and five dimes. Russell has now scored at least 20 points in 7 of his last 8 games and is steaming with confidence ever since being inserted into the starting lineup.
LeBron James praised the rookie from Ohio State after the game.
Julius Randle finished just one rebound shy of yet another double-double, as Randle finished with 15 points and nine boards on 6-10 shooting. Jordan Clarkson struggled to find his touch in this one, finishing with just five points on a forgettable 2-12 clip, including going 0-6 from three.
With Nick Young out after struggling with his shot recently, Marcelo Huertas got an even greater increase in minutes. The Brazilian point guard scored a career-high 13 points on 6-10 from the field. Huertas also did a little bit of everything, chipping in five assists, three boards, a steal and a pair of blocked shots. Brandon Bass continued his impressive play off of the bench with 12 points on a perfect 5-5 night from the field to go with his eight boards and two dimes.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James shared a moment at mid-court after the final buzzer sounded, and the rest of the Cavaliers team came over to congratulate Kobe on a legendary career.
With just 16 games left in the Lakers season, it is unclear how many more Bryant will suit up for. For all we know, this could be the icing on the cake in the great career of number 24 (and number 8). The statue is being designed as we speak, as Bryant will join the legendary group of Lakers who already have statues outside of the Staples Center.
It is no question these two will go down in history as two of the best to ever play the game, and Thursday's game was a vintage performance for both James and Bryant.
The Cavaliers will stay in Los Angeles a few more days as they take on the Clippers on Sunday in the exact same building. For the Lakers, they battle the Knicks in the Staples Center on Sunday as well. It's safe to say will be a busy day for the Staples Center crew come Sunday.