Kobe Drops 60 in Farewell; Warriors Reach Win Record
April 18, 2016

If you are a sports fan but have perhaps taken a couple of years off from watching the NBA, Wednesday night was a great night to return. If you are a die hard basketball fan, you wouldn't have missed Wednesday, but you might have doubted if it would live up to the hype. It did, and more.

Events are over-hyped in sports all the time. That's what they do. A mid-August baseball game would have “drastic playoff implications” or a November hockey game in the northeast would be billed as some kind of showdown. It would not however, be an over-dramatization to say that Wednesday could have been the biggest regular season night in the NBA in decades. There were two games on the West Coast, going on simultaneously, that were unbelievable. What's more, you were pretty certain how both of them were going to end, but that didn't matter. And even if you knew the scenarios, you had no idea exactly how they would play out, and were astounded when the games were finally over.

In Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant was playing his final NBA game after 20 seasons. It was ESPN's plan to carry this game, until the Golden State Warriors, in their final regular season game of the year, were going for a league record 73 wins. That's 73 wins in 82 games, a winning percentage of .890. ESPN decided to go with the Warriors, and shifted Kobe and the Lakers to ESPN2, which just meant a chance to watch them both.

The only problem with this, was it was pretty hard to watch one game without knowing what's going on in the other. My solution? Tape both games, watch one quarter of one game, and then one quarter of the other, and cover up the bottom of the screen where they show the scores. I found that three envelopes propped up against the TV work just fine, as long as your television isn't mounted on a wall or something.

Frankly, I was much more interested in Kobe than the Warriors, because everyone was pretty sure that the record would be set. But how would Kobe do on his final night? You tuned in for the tributes, the love and the speeches, but you stayed to see what the Mamba would do on the court for his final game. With the Warriors, and not having seen them that much you forget what you've heard, these guys can shoot. It was like watching an All-Star game except the defense was actually trying. Golden State led Memphis 70-50 at halftime. Steph Curry had 25 points and 7 three-pointers. He was close to 400 three-point baskets on the season. No one else has ever made 300.

Meanwhile, Kobe, who many people think should have retired a year or two ago, missed his first five shots. It was his night, and the game didn't have any playoff implications, so you knew his teammates were going to keep giving him the ball. And they did. Bryant would make his next five, and had 22 points at the break. The night was so special, Jack Nicholson even did a live interview from his courtside seats.

In Oakland, it was becoming pretty evident that the Warriors were going to get the wins record. Now, the crowd wanted Curry to get his 400th three. It happened in the first minute of the second half. Curry would finish with 46 points, average 30 for the season, and sat out the final period.

Think about this for a second. Curry's 400 three-pointers means an average of five per game. That's 15 points right there. They also said that Curry sat out the fourth quarter something like 20 times this year. The Warriors were winning so many games that they didn't need him. That's a lot of scoring in a little time, and guys like Klay Thompson are almost capable of doing the same thing, which is why the Warriors are an incredible team to watch.

Back to Staples Center, where, by the way if you haven't been watching this year—the Lakers are abysmal, not only is Kobe going off, but the Lakers might actually win. The plan was for Bryant to only rest the first six minutes of the second and fourth quarters, but he went the whole way in half number two. He missed a three-pointer at the end of the third quarter that would have given him 40, and the Lakers trailed by nine.

With the crowd a little surprised that Bryant was out there for the start of the fourth, his teammates kept feeding him the ball, and he broke the 50-point mark with a minute and a half to go and his team trailing by six. It was reported that the cheapest ticket in the house for Kobe's final game was going for thousands of dollars. Well, if you have that kind of money, you would have felt that the price was worth it. “You're getting excited about this 50 business, all right?”, ESPN analyst Hubie Brown said, “but the people are smelling a W.”

Bryant hit a long jumper with 31.8 seconds to go to give him 58 points and the Lakers a 97-96 lead. He would add two free throws for 60, and a 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz. Bryant, in his 20-year career, had 44 games of 40 points or more, 25 with 50, and seven with 60.

In Los Angeles and Oakland, and on millions of televisions around the country and around the world, fans were given a treat. As they used to say in an ad campaign—NBA basketball is fan-tastic. Especially on this one night, and even more so if you've missed the last couple of years.

A stitch in time: It was 40 years ago this week that a Dodger pitcher returned to the mound after having a landmark procedure where Dr. Frank Jobe took a tendon out of his leg and inserted it in his elbow, replacing the torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament. Tommy John would go on to win 20 games three times, and won 288 games in 26 years in the big leagues. It's amazing that he isn't in the Hall of Fame, but that operation will be forever known as Tommy John surgery.

“Vin”tage: Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully has certainly gotten a lot of attention this past week. With the Dodgers playing their home opener Tuesday, Scully officially had the road into Dodger Stadium named after him. In Friday's game against the Giants, he told a story about pitcher Madison Bumgarner being startled by a snake, hacked it to pieces, but saved a baby rabbit that was still alive after just being eaten. Saturday, with the local cameras on a little boy in the stands, Scully read some Dr. Seuss, and during the ESPN game Sunday night, they got a hold of some old audio of Scully reading a grocery list, which you always knew would be entertaining, and it was. Scully is retiring at the end of this season after 67 years broadcasting the Dodgers.

Ram tough: It was guessed in this column a few weeks ago that the Los Angeles Rams would open their return season at home as the second game of the Monday night doubleheader against a division opponent—either Arizona or Seattle. We were part right. The Rams will open the 2016 NFL season as the second game of the Monday night doubleheader against a division opponent, but it will be on the road at San Francisco. The home opener will be the following Sunday (September 18) against Seattle. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll once coached USC at the Coliseum, which we thought might be the season opener, but just missed by a week. Southern California 49er fans can catch their team against the Rams in LA on December 24. The Rams also, by the way, have acquired the first pick in the NFL draft, which is next week.

Road ice advantage: The Los Angeles Kings have defeated the San Jose Sharks 2-1 in overtime tonight, but trail the best-of-seven playoff series two games to one. The road team has won all three hockey games.

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