A day after Kobe Bryant’s birthday, a date that includes both of the numbers he wore, the Lakers honored him by wearing a jersey he helped design and by ruthlessly crushing the spirit of their opponent.
The Portland Trail Blazers never had a chance. The Lakers won, 135-115, taking a 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.
LeBron James scored 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting with 10 assists and six rebounds, making four of five three-pointers. Anthony Davis finished with 18 points, five assists and five rebounds. Battling a stifling defensive effort, Portland guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to attempt only five three-pointers, making three.
Nods to Bryant were everywhere on Monday. Before the game, Davis and James entered the building wearing a version of Bryant’s jersey, as did Houston Rockets star Russell Westbrook, who wore a gold Bryant jersey with purple shoes. His teammate James Harden wore a T-shirt honoring Bryant and shorts with “Bryant” written across the front.
Coaches, team staff and many players wore Bryant’s shoes. Davis and Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager and president of basketball operations, wore the same colorful design with gold accents. Lillard wore shoes with 8 on his left heel and 24 on his right heel. JR Smith wrote “WWKD” on one shoe and “shoot” on the other.
It was technically a Portland home game, but during the first quarter the courtside signage and the placard behind the basket all honored Bryant and his daughter Gigi, who died with him in the Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas. It included a white heart with 2 inside it, for the number Gigi wore, beside Bryant’s initials in purple and gold.
The tributes didn’t end with what was planned.
With 4:58 left in the first quarter, the Lakers led 24-8 — another nod to his jersey numbers. Their largest lead of the quarter was 24 points. Davis, whom Bryant used to encourage by telling him he could be unstoppable, nearly was during that period, scoring 16 points with three assists, three rebounds, two blocks and a steal. He and James combined for 24 points in that quarter.
As the second quarter neared its close, it became apparent that an 81-point first half was within reach — and with it, another nod to Bryant. James hit a three-pointer and two layups in the final 1:05 to send the Lakers into halftime up 80-51. He thought he was fouled on his way to the basket for the last one, and a free throw would have allowed the Lakers to match Bryant’s legendary career high in points.
Their 80-point half, though, was a feat in itself. It was their highest-scoring half in the playoffs since 1987.
The Lakers were no kinder to Portland in the third quarter. Their lead grew to 38 when James launched a three-pointer from two steps in front of the NBA logo at midcourt — a range more often associated with Lillard. It’s why the Lakers defended Lillard for nearly the entire length of the court and boxed him in each time he touched the ball, holding him to 11 points on three-for-nine shooting.
Lillard left the game in the third quarter due to a right knee injury, not long after Davis left with back spasms. Davis, though, looked peppy on the sideline, cheering and leaping to his teammates’ defense when necessary. Lillard, meanwhile, had an MRI during the game.
James began to ice his joints midway through the fourth quarter and watched from the bench as his team finished the job he started.