This April 13, 2016, twenty minutes before the interval, the players of Salt Lake City learn that they will not play the playoffs with the victory of the Rockets. Clearly, this last game is for butter, and more than ever, this Lakers – Jazz looks like a jubilee for Kobe Bryant, whose « Last Dance » drags on.
After an inevitable and beautiful series of tributes orchestrated by Magic Johnson, the game begins and Kobe Bryant takes the first shot of the game for the Lakers, too short. The second one too, too long this time. He rips the ball from Gordon Hayward’s hands on the other side and tries his chance in penetration but misses his lay-up, then another shot and the Lakers wait five minutes to score their first basket (6-2).
A complicated start to the game
Kobe Bryant misses his fifth shot but counters Trevor Booker and finally scores on the counter-attack for the pleasure of Staples Center. He brings the Lakers back on level terms with the same opportunity: 6-6 after 7 minutes. He immediately follows up with a shot at the top of the rack, then a penetration shot with the foul!
The game is launched, Kobe Bryant too: he takes his 4th shot in a row in the corner and his 5th in transition behind the arc. The Staples Center is on its feet, the Lakers are ahead, and Kobe has already shot 11 times in 9 minutes, for 12 points. On a late possession, he gets fouled and three free throws, which he makes. He misses his next two attempts behind the arc and after 12 minutes, Utah leads 21-19 thanks to a good Raul Neto.
The game resumes its « normal » course without Kobe Bryant, rested on the bench. The Lakers are clumsy but remain in contact after 7 minutes (33-29). The moment chosen by Byron Scott to put the number 24 back on the court, who immediately misses a complicated 3-point shot in the corner.
He gets closer to the circle again to score his first shot in the 2nd quarter, and puts the next one behind the arc to keep LA at -6 (43-37). Kobe doesn’t make any more baskets at the end of the half but shoots some free throws and launches a counter-attack in « showtime » mode concluded by Julius Randle. If the scoreboard doesn’t matter tonight, a close score could have made the last minutes of the « Black Mamba » on the floor more tasty. Playing seriously in this special atmosphere, the Jazz lead by 15 points at the break (57-42). The king of the evening is enjoying himself with already 20 shots attempted and 22 points on the counter.
Kobe Bryant brings the Lakers back into the game
The most watched man stays on the court at the beginning of the second half and scores 6 points in 53 seconds ! The Lakers are back in the game and the lead is back under 10 points. Kobe makes an airball on his 27th attempt but makes up for it again with penetration. Jordan Clarkson steals the show with a 360 on the counter-attack but Kobe puts in a fadeaway from the baseline and a bonus shot to bring the Californians back to -5 after 6 minutes (64-59). In the Staples Center, the « Kobe, Kobe » give way to « Defense, Defense ». The » franchise player » had his 431st career game with more than 30 points at the end of the quarter, with 37 units at 14/34. Will he get to 50? Byron Scott answers in an interview, « We’re going to try. »
With the Lakers at -9 going into Kobe’s final career quarter, Kobe has an opportunity to be decisive in his final strides on NBA floors.
Utah started the quarter in earnest and quickly built up a 14-point lead, but #24 brought LA back to -9 on a jump shot in transition and became the 5th player in history to score 40 points at over 37 years old. Quin Snyder takes a timeout but the « Black Mamba » bites again from distance. His teammates make the show with a huge counter from Tarik Black followed by an alley-oop, to come back to 5 lengths of the Jazz (85-80).
« Mamba Out! »
A very clean Jordan Clarkson reduces the gap to 3 units with 6 minutes to go. Kobe Bryant connects from mid-range to reach 45 points. But on a miss on a counter-attack followed by a big dunk by Trevor Booker, he sees the Jazz extend the lead to +9 again, with less than 4 minutes to go.
Kobe Bryant scores again on penetration to get closer to 50 points. It’s now clear to everyone: he wants that mark, and will get it. Two free throws later, he is at 49… and then 51, then 53 ! The Lakers are at -4 with 80 seconds left, and at -1 with one minute to go on a shot from the « Black Mamba »!
Shelvin Mack misses his attempt from distance, ball for Kobe Bryant who scores to go back in front in a crazy atmosphere ! At the end of the time-out, Trey Lyles misses his shot and Utah sends the hero of the evening on the free-throw line, which takes him to the 60 points mark ! Gordon Hayward misses his layup, Jordan Clarkson dunks from the other side of the court to close the game.
Kobe Bryant is able to walk out to the cheers of the Staples Center and takes the microphone to say goodbye: « You know, I wonder how these twenty years could go by so fast. It’s crazy. It’s been crazy. We’ve had our ups and downs, but the most important thing is that we’ve been together all this time. « Before dropping his famous « Mamba Out, » he can’t help but quip about his almost unreal performance, « For 20 years I was told ‘pass the ball!’ and for my last one I was yelled at ‘don’t pass it!' »