Basketball wasn’t the primary focus at Staples Center on Friday night.
In the Los Angeles Lakers’ first game back after the death of Kobe Bryant — who was among nine people killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday in Southern California — how could it be?
Yet after a long, emotional, tear-filled tribute, a basketball game had to be played.
And Damian Lillard, once again, showed up.
Lillard scored 48 points buoyed by a big third quarter to lead the Portland Trail Blazers past the Lakers 127-119, their third win in four games.
“It was hard. I think everybody had a lot of emotions coming in, and then the videos, the music, it was just one of those moments,” Lillard said on ESPN after the win. “One of our legends, icons of the world, not just our game, passing away, really tough night. I think the game started off slow because of that. It’s hard to be excited about the game when you have this type of situation.”
Lillard’s huge third quarter
Lillard has been on an impressive hot streak over the past few weeks.
The Trail Blazers star had averaged more than 48 points per game in their last four contests heading into Friday night, and was fresh off his first career triple-double. Nobody in the league seems to have an answer for him.
That didn’t change at Staples Center, either.
Lillard, who put up 19 points in a tight first half, dropped 23 points in the third quarter alone and shot an outstanding 6-of-7 from the 3-point line. He was simply unstoppable.
Yet even with his offensive outburst, the Trail Blazers couldn’t separate from the Lakers and entered the fourth quarter up just seven points.
‘Ko-be’ chant, rally come up short
The Trail Blazers didn’t let up in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, quickly pushing their lead to 12.
That’s when fans at the Staples Center played their part.
A monstrous “Ko-be” chant suddenly rang out, sparking a quick 9-0 Lakers run — which was capped by a deep 3-pointer from LeBron James — to bring them right back within three points.
The chant rang out again at the two-minute mark, as Lakers fans were trying to will their team to a win.
It just wasn’t enough.
Lillard nearly finished with a triple-double again with 48 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. He has now hit 40 3-pointers in his last five games, too, setting a new NBA record.
Hassan Whiteside added 30 points and 12 rebounds for Portland, and CJ McCollum finished with 19 points and six rebounds.
Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 37 points, 18 of which came in the first quarter, and 15 rebounds. James nearly had a triple-double of his own, finishing with 22 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
While it wasn’t easy by any means, Lillard said the he felt the best way to honor Bryant was to “come out here and play our hearts out.”
"Come out here and play our hearts out. The one thing that we know for sure we had in common with Kobe is the love of this game."— ESPN (@espn) February 1, 2020
—Damian Lillard wanted to go out and honor Kobe Bryant pic.twitter.com/j0r1nM0YXp
“The one thing that we know for sure that we had in common with Kobe is the love of this game,” Lillard said on ESPN. “And we here, so we might as well come out and honor him in that way, and I thought we did that.”
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