As the entire basketball world mourned the loss of an all-time great, an NBA game by necessity took place, and the Portland Trail Blazers in shocking fashion upset the Los Angeles Lakers 127-119 in the first Staples Center game since the passing of Kobe Bryant.
A moving tribute pushed tip close to 8 p.m. and memorable performances continued throughout the night, featuring the likes of Usher, Boyz II Men and Wiz Khalifa. LeBron James prefaced the action with an emotional pregame address and what followed was an exciting and competitive contest worthy of Bryant’s indomitable spirit.
Although given the almost impossible task of facing the league’s best team rallying around its most beloved player in franchise history, the Blazers defied all expectations to pull out the victory. Damian Lillard continued his flat-out ridiculous streak of MVP-caliber play with another near triple-double (48 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds) and Hassan Whiteside had maybe his best game of the season with 30 points (on an absurd 13-14 shooting) along with 13 boards and 5 blocks. He also hit the game-sealing shot with a 15-foot “Dirk-fader” in the final minute.
They even did so shorthanded.
Carmelo Anthony, who missed the game for personal reasons, was replaced in the starting lineup by former G-League-er and newly acquired Wenyen Gabriel, who had about as an unremarkable debut as one could imagine. But Lillard was that good, and L.A. went cold in the fourth quarter, which paved the way for Portland to run away with a very important victory.
Dame had 23 points in a remarkable third quarter that was ultimately the deciding factor, with most of the damage coming from behind the three-point arc, where he added seven more bombs to a streak of outside dominance that ranks at the very top in NBA history. We are simply witnessing the best stretch of Lillard’s already brilliant career - so far - and it is exceptional to watch.
More to come for sure.
The Blazers will head back to the Rose City to take on the Utah Jazz tomorrow night at Moda Center.