A hero to a generation of basketball fans, Kobe Bryant swished a late 3-pointer and immediately celebrated with a trio of men who the entire globe points to as the definition of that term, “hero.”
Bryant’s triple put the Lakers up 11 with 3:44 left in their 97-85 victory over Detroit. The Pistons immediately called timeout, and the five-time champion took the opportunity to hand out high-fives to the three men who stopped a terrorist attack on a French train in August — Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlator and Spencer Stone.
The group was honored by the Lakers before and during the game, plus given courtside seats, from which they slapped hands with the NBA legend.
“That was a great moment,” Bryant said. “They were encouraging me all game. I figured I wouldn’t sit down and make sure I dap them up.”
The 3-pointer wound down Bryant’s finest game of his 20th season thus far. The 37-year-old hovered near a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
With the year’s first win at Staples Center on the line, Bryant played 36 minutes — six more than his season average — and later said he wasn’t looking forward to walking back to his car after his postgame presser.
“I pushed through this fourth quarter because we had to get a win at home,” Bryant said “Right now, I’m barely standing up . My back and legs are killing me. I’m going home and I’m looking forward to that ice bath and stretch.”
Shortly after, Bryant exited the locker room with Sadler and Stone in tow.
Despite his all-around strong performance, Bryant began the game without much touch on his shot, going just 4-of-14 through three quarters. While he remained dangerous with his passing and rebounding, his fellow Lakers (2-8) kept Detroit’s offense at bay.
The Pistons (5-5) shot a season-worst 36.5 percent (35-of-96) from the field in their seventh consecutive loss to the Lakers. And though they have earned their reputation as one of the NBA’s top rebounding units, L.A. equalled them with 46 boards.
Andre Drummond — who has won both of this season’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week awards — was “held” to 17 points and 17 rebounds, while going 8-of-18 from the field himself.
Drummond, who averages 18.7 points and 19.2 rebounds, was mainly prevented from taking over by Roy Hibbert, who fought through a mid-game facial injury that will require him to wear a protective mask in Monday’s game in Phoenix.
“(Hibbert) is one of the best rim protectors in the league,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “(That’s) something we need more of. Andre could learn from (him). … That’s what Roy Hibbert does.”
On the other end, the Lakers stayed afloat thanks to a 29-8 advantage at the free throw line, plus solid ball movement with 24 assists on 31 baskets.
Jordan Clarkson got going early, tallying 17 points (5-of-10) and six rebounds on the night, while Nick Young caught on late by providing seven of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.
Young’s presence was key when the Lakers trailed by three with 10 minutes left. He hit a pair of shots in the purple and gold’s ensuing 16-2 run, which was capped off by Bryant’s 3-pointer.
Grinning in the locker room, Young donned an NSYNC t-shirt and likened L.A.’s victory to the success of the ‘90s boyband — of course saving the starring role for himself.
“We were really in sync in the game,” Young said. “I was more like Justin Timberlake out there on defense.”
The train heroes’ visit was especially meaningful considering the recency of Friday’s terrorist attacks on Paris. Before the game, the Lakers played the French anthem, “La Marseillaise.”
Sadler, Skarlator and Stone were greeted with a standing ovation from the sold-out Staples Center crowd when introduced at mid-court.
In addition to his defense, Hibbert added 12 points and seven rebounds. … Detroit shot just 8-of-15 on free throws, sinking their league-worst percentage to 63.7. … The Lakers have won 12 of their last 13 versus the Pistons, and are 13-3 against them at Staples Center.