Lakers' Massive Comeback Falls Just Short

The Lakers legend, Kobe Bryant, kept his team alive in what appeared to be a rout. The symbol of the future, D’Angelo Russell, erupted in the final quarter to put the purple and gold on the brink of victory.

But an old rival was there at the end to snatch it all away.

Rajon Rondo hit a running floater with 21.7 seconds left to turn Los Angeles’ 115-114 lead into a one-point Sacramento edge. Then, as Jordan Clarkson tried to set up a game-winning shot, Rondo poked the ball out from behind to seal the eventual 118-115 win for the Kings.

“I really wanted to go for the win,” head coach Byron Scott said. “I wanted Jordan to get a high pick-and-roll and try to get to the basket, take his little jump shot or find the open guy. … As soon as he got around Rondo, Rondo did a great job of reaching around and knocking the ball out of his hands, unfortunately.”

Originally, the Kings appeared to be skipping out to an uncontested beatdown, as they rushed to a 25-4 lead thanks to 16 unanswered points.

Though L.A. trailed by 21 at halftime, it had begun to show some fight, as Bryant scored 11 in the frame to keep his team barely within reach. After the Lakers scored 38 points in the third, they were finally ready to make their move.

They jumped out on a 14-4 run to cut the deficit down to 106-102. After DeMarcus Cousins — who scored a game-high 29 points — responded with a jumper, L.A. (8-29) scored seven straight to snag the lead on a bucket by Clarkson, who contributed 12 of his 15 points in the final quarter.

From there, the teams traded blows. Russell hit a lead-changing layup with 2:44 left, but sprained his ankle on the play and soon left the game for good — though not before dropping a career-high 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting.

Sacramento scored on its next two possessions, but so did Clarkson and Brandon Bass. However, that simply lit the scene for Rondo — a key figure in the Lakers’ NBA Finals clashes with the Boston Celtics in 2008 and 2010.

The league’s assist leader clinched the game for the Kings (15-21) on both sides of the ball to polish his own performance of nine points, six rebounds, 12 assists and four steals.

Mr. 33,000
In the most Kobe Bryant way possible, the 20-year veteran became just the third member of the NBA’s 33,000-point club. Late in the third quarter, he hit a turnaround bank shot to join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone’s exclusive group.

Bryant became the youngest of the three reach that mark, but his bucket just minutes earlier may have been even more impressive, as the 37-year-old soared through the air to catch a lob from Clarkson and throw down an alley-oop jam.

Despite scoring 28 points (10-of-18) in three quarters, Bryant sat out the final period.

“I’d much rather watch the young guys play,” said Bryant, who had missed L.A.’s last three games with a sore shoulder. “They played so hard and they work really, really hard. It’s important for them to figure out how to close those game out without me on the floor, because obviously I’m not gonna be there next year.”

In his last trip to Sacramento, Bryant was consistently reminded of old times, including by Kings general manager Vlade Divac, who was originally traded from the Lakers to Charlotte for the then-18-year-old Bryant. As a retirement gift, Divac gave him a No. 8 Hornets jersey.

But it was a trio of other jerseys that really got Bryant thinking. During the national anthem he looked up into the rafters and saw the uniforms of Divac, Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic — players whom he faced during the Lakers and Kings’ heated battles in the three-peat era playoffs.

“I’m going, ‘It feels like yesterday I was playing against them and their numbers are retired,’” Bryant said. “‘What the hell am I still doing here?’”

Young and Confident
Dropping his career-high had Russell feeling extra confident after the game. The rookie had only eight points at halftime, but he seemed to always find the bucket in the final two quarters.

“We were clicking,” Russell said. “I feel like I was hot. I probably would have hit some B.S. shot (for the win), because I was making everything. I feel like that was set for us to win, but (Sacramento) kind of got away with it.”

The 19-year-old scored 11 points in the fourth quarter alone and had his team rolling. After slogging through that ugly first half and falling behind by as many as 27, he felt that the Lakers were heading toward victory if not for his injury.

“No matter what group of guys is out there, every guy we got on this team is able to play the right way,” Russell said. “When we don’t play the right way, it looks bad. But I feel like we’re growing.

“I feel like (Sacramento) kind of got lucky with that one. Honestly if didn’t go down, I probably would’ve hit some bogus shot and we would’ve won it. Everything was happening for us and the basketball gods probably would’ve blessed us on that one.”

Bryant said he will play Friday against Oklahoma City, but Russell’s status was uncertain. … The Lakers nearly completed the franchise’s third-biggest comeback based on halftime deficit. … Bass was a major part of the rally with 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and a career-high five steals. … Lou Williams scored 20 points (7-of-13) with three 3-pointers. … A sold-out crowd of 17,386 filled Sleep Train Arena for Bryant’s final game in the state capital.

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