Hours after announcing his retirement at the end of the season, Kobe Bryant nearly turned his game-long nightmare into a storybook ending.
The Lakers trailed Indiana by as many as 22 points, but Bryant swished a turnaround 3-pointer with 12.0 seconds left, cutting the deficit to one and sending a sold-out Staples Center into a frenzy.
However, midnight struck at around 9 p.m. for Bryant, who shot just 4-of-20, as he missed the game-tying triple wide to the right with 7.0 seconds to go.
Still, to most the contest itself was rather inconsequential. In fact, just one question at Bryant’s postgame presser was about the game itself. Instead, everybody wanted to know about the five-time champion suddenly declaring the end of a legendary career.
“I’ve known for awhile,” Bryant said. “I’ve always said that if anything changes, it’ll change my mind. The problem is: What does that really mean? You can’t make that decision based on outside circumstances. … Finally I just had to accept the fact that I don’t want to do this anymore, and I’m OK with that.”
For now, though, Bryant focuses on finishing out his career, rather than worrying about the unknown that will follow.
“I think that question becomes a lot easier to answer when training camp comes around next year and I’m not there,” he said. “I think that question becomes easier to answer. Right now, I honestly feel really at peace with it.”
Part of that process involved writing a letter that was given to each of the 18,997 in attendance at Staples Center.
“They’ve got to know how much they’ve meant to me,” he said. “And a letter doesn’t do it justice, honestly. I grew up here. People don’t understand how much I take that; why I would never — despite many offers — go someplace else.”
Bryant was far from the only Laker who struggled, especially early on when the team shot just 2-of-20 in the first quarter, falling behind 28-12.
But L.A. chipped away at Indiana’s lead behind the efforts of Jordan Clarkson, who notched his first double-double of the season with 22 points and a career-high 10 rebounds.
The Lakers (2-14) finally found their swag in the second half, when Nick “Swaggy P” Young scored all 22 his points, in part by knocking down a team season-best six 3-pointers.
“My teammates just said they were going to get me open, get me some shots,” Young said. “That was a part of the ball movement. We all shared the ball tonight. Hopefully this type of stuff will carry over.”
Young and Metta World Peace hit back-to-back 3’s with 24 seconds left to cut the Pacers’ lead to two. But Indiana (11-5) turned to early MVP candidate Paul George, who erupted for 39 points, while knocking down five triples and 14 free throws.
But even George, an L.A. County native and professed Bryant fan, was all about the Black Mamba once the final whistle had blown.
“I didn’t really have any moments of watching (Michael) Jordan, but Kobe was my Jordan,” George said. “Watching him win championships. I remember just being at home, watching the games with my mom, grandma and dad, just idolizing him. After the game was over, I’d go to the front yard and try to imitate everything that I just saw.”
Fittingly, George defended his idol on the game-tying attempt, as Bryant’s shot went awry.
For the second straight game, Lou Williams was not with the team due to the death of his grandfather. … Julius Randle (11 points, 12 rebounds) also had a double-double. … Indiana entered the game averaging the NBA’s second-most steals (9.9), but had just four.