No way Kobe Bryant was going to go away quietly.
The 20-year veteran missed his first five shots of his career finale, but just kept on shooting and shooting and shooting and…
Bryant concluded his final chapter by erupting for 60 points — the most of any player in the league this season — while piloting the Lakers’ 101-96 comeback over the Utah Jazz.
After Bryant delivered a victorious retirement speech to the sold-out Staples Center crowd, balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling. Back in the locker room, 14 teammates armed with champagne bottles were waiting to douse the now-retired icon.
“Honestly, I can’t believe this actually happened, to be honest with you,” Bryant said. “This is kind of crazy to me, the last game at home. It’s hard for me to believe that it happened this way, it really is. I’m still in shock about it.”
With a decorated reputation for clutch shots, Bryant lifted the final two and a half minutes of his career straight off a script from nearby Hollywood.
His Lakers trailed, 96-86, but then he bolted out on a one-man, 13-0 run to stun Utah. Using a full arsenal that included a layup, three jumpers and a couple free throws, Bryant managed to steal the lead at 97-96 with 31.6 seconds left on a 20-foot pull-up.
Utah couldn’t respond and was forced to foul Bryant, who cashed in his free throws to reach 60 points for the sixth time in his career and first since dropping 61 in New York on Feb. 2, 2009.
“I don’t even know what to do with my hands right now,” a visibly emotional Jordan Clarkson said. “This was, like, so crazy, to be honest with you. I don’t even know how to react. He was just making everything. It was crazy.”
The Lakers averaged only 77.0 points in their first three meetings against the Jazz, losing by an average margin of 29. But the offensive focus this time around was clear all night long, as Bryant heaved an unprecedented 50 shots, making 22 of them, while also going 10-of-12 at the foul line.
“The past 20 years: Get the ball to Kobe and he usually wins,” Larry Nance Jr. said. “That was our goal today, and 60 points later here we are."
Despite his initial bout of inaccuracy, Bryant made his next five shots in the first quarter to reach 15 points. However, he slowed a bit in the second, hitting 2-of-7 as the Lakers fell behind, 57-42, at halftime.
However, Los Angeles’ leader helped it chip back in the next period, scoring 15 points to cut the deficit to nine heading into the last frame of his career.
By hanging around just enough, the Lakers (17-65) put themselves in position for Bryant to singlehandedly take the game over. After providing his unanswered baker’s dozen of scoring, he fired the ball to Clarkson for a game-sealing dunk with 4.1 seconds remaining to ice his final victory.
“It was incredible,” head coach Byron Scott said. “I’ve never seen it, never been a part of it, never witnessed anything like that. As I told the (team) just a minute ago: They just witnessed history.”
Bryant poured in 38 points on 15-of-30 shooting in the second half alone. However, he wasn’t too tired to chat with his daughters, Natalia and Gianna, who had courtside seats for their dad’s final battle.
“The coolest thing is that my kids actually saw me play like I used to play,” Bryant said. “It was like, ‘Whoa, dad!’ I said, ‘Yeah, I used to do this pretty often.’ They were like, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Dude, YouTube it.’”
Fortunately for the both of them, highlights from this game shouldn’t be too hard to find.