Kobe Bryant vs. Houston
Kobe Bryant prepares to shoot free throws against the Houston Rockets on April 10, 2016.
(Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)

Bryant Shines With 35 in Loss to Houston

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Kobe Bryant may be three days away from retirement, but on Sunday he looked nothing like a player on his way to the proverbial rocking chair.

The 37-year old dropped 35 points — the second-most of his final season — in only 27 minutes, though the Lakers fell in Houston, 130-110, due to 40 points from James Harden.

“I’m eternally optimistic,” Bryant said. “The jump shot was falling, the legs felt good. Then you have nights like this.”

In the third-to-last game of his career, Bryant got straight to work, scoring 15 points in the first quarter alone to bring the Lakers within two points of their hosts.

After playing the entire opening frame, Bryant sat the second one. However, neither team was able to pull ahead by much, as the Rockets went to halftime with a 55-53 lead.

Houston finally shot ahead halfway through the third quarter, using a 10-2 spurt to capture a 76-64 lead. However, Bryant responded in the one-man-offense style that he became famous for over his career.

The NBA’s third-leading scorer of all-time went on an individual 9-0 run via a layup, 3-pointer, reverse layup and deep jumper just inside of the arc that cut the deficit to three.

Just before the end of the period, Bryant capped his 14-point quarter by shaking former teammate Trevor Ariza with a crossover before draining a 28-foot 3-pointer.

“Just watching him, especially this year with the game’s winding down — sometimes I do find myself in awe of watching one of the greatest that’s ever played,” head coach Byron Scott said. “That shot in the third quarter is one of those moments where you just kind of shake your head.”

However, Harden answered in the fourth quarter by putting on a striking impression of Bryant’s prime, as he led Houston to a 23-10 advantage with Bryant on the bench in the first seven minutes.

Harden even scored 11 points in a row at one point, throwing down a fast-break dunk then following with a trio of 3-pointers.

Harden — the NBA’s leading fourth-quarter scorer — finished the frame with 20 points, as the Lakers (16-64) were never able to bring their deficit down to single digits.

The Los Angeles native finished the night 14-of-31 from the field, including six triples, while notching 13 assists and four steals. Harden’s performance pushed Houston (39-41) a half-game behind Utah for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.

Meanwhile, Bryant shot 10-of-22 with four 3-pointers, while also hitting a perfect 11-of-11 at the foul line.

“What can you say?” Scott said. “The man’s unbelievable at times. Sometimes you just sit there and marvel at the way he’s able to play this game still at a high level after 20 years of basketball.”

However, Houston was able to make the most out of extra possessions by forcing 21 turnovers and grabbing 16 offensive rebounds. The Rockets beat the Lakers inside and out, scoring 62 points in the paint and hitting 17 3-pointers en route to their first sweep of Los Angeles in franchise history.

Jordan Clarkson complemented Bryant with 21 points and eight rebounds. … Ariza and Patrick Beverley both scored 19 for Houston. … After the game, Bryant shared a moment and hug with one of his longtime mentors, Hall of Fame Rocket Hakeem Olajuwon. … A sold-out crowd of 18,442 filed Toyota Center for Bryant’s final game in Houston.

Another quarter for Kobe! #KB20

A photo posted by Los Angeles Lakers (@lakers) on

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