In Kobe Bryant’s final game against the Boston Celtics, it was clear from the opening tip-off that he wanted to leave them with a performance that would remind them of what he’s done most of his career – score at will.
Well the Celtics took Bryant’s best punches, and ended things by giving him what they always want to give him - a loss.
Despite a strong surge in the second and third quarters by the Lakers, the Celtics began and ended the game playing well which was good enough to secure a 107-100 victory.
With the win, Boston (45-32) has secured a second trip to the postseason while the Lakers (16-60) move one step closer towards the worst record in franchise history.
Bryant doesn’t have the same explosiveness or elite athleticism that has been a hallmark of his career.
But the 20-year veteran can still score with the best of them, evident by him finishing with a game-high 34 points.
He gave the Lakers faithful looking for a sweep of the Celtics hope late in the game when he drained a jumper to cut Boston’s lead to 99-93.
Moments later, Isaiah Thomas broke down the Lakers defense and scored on a driving lay-up to the basket that made it 101-93. Thomas led the Celtics in scoring with 26 points, 21 of which came in the first half.
The Celtics increased their lead shortly after that when Marcus Smart hit a 3-pointer to make it a 104-93 with a little more than 90 seconds to play.
The Lakers, seemingly out of it, went on to score seven of the next seven points to make it a 104-100 game with 27.9 seconds to play.
Brad Stevens, well aware that his team was on the verge of yet another late-game collapse, called a time-out to regroup.
Out of the time-out, Evan Turner was fouled on a drive attempt and went to the line where he made one of two attempts.
Kobe Bryant tried to make it a one-possession game but his 3-point attempt was off the mark.
In the scramble for the loose ball, Crowder was fouled and went to the line. But on the play, Turner was hit in the face by Julius Randle and immediately went to the locker room.
Crowder made both free throws to secure the victory.
Boston led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter, only to see their control – and their big fat lead – shrink up quickly.
Not surprisingly, it was Bryant leading the Lakers comeback.
After a Thomas 3-pointer put the Celtics ahead 57-40, Los Angeles more than doubled up the Celtics over the course of the second and most of the third quarter to lead 73-71 on a lob dunk by Larry Nance Jr.
Neither team could assert control of the game for the remainder of the third quarter which ended with the Celtics clinging to a 77-75 lead going into the fourth.