LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant’s resonant voice echoed through the darkened Staples Center while images from his life and career flickered on the scoreboard above.
LeBron James’ heartfelt pregame speech honouring his friend then left Lakers fans and players alike cheering through tears.
The Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers somehow had to play a basketball game after a wrenching pregame ceremony honouring Bryant and the other eight victims of the helicopter crash just five days earlier.
And Damian Lillard gave a performance that nudged aside the basketball world’s collective heartbreak for just a moment.
Lillard scored 48 points and the Trail Blazers beat Los Angeles 127-119 on Friday night in the Lakers’ first game since Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash.
Lillard hit seven 3-pointers and added 10 assists and nine rebounds in an inspired effort that sent the Blazers to a win over an opponent still dealing with the trauma of the crash that claimed the life of their franchise icon.
“I think everybody was emotional tonight,” said James, who played in two Olympics alongside Bryant. “We all have our individual reasons why emotion hits us, and then we all have this brotherhood and this family, being a part of this Laker organization, which automatically brings in even more emotion.”
Both teams stood on the court during a poignant pregame tribute to Bryant including songs, Kobe highlights and James’ speech, which captivated the arena.
“So in the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba out,”’ James told the crowd. “But in the words of us, `not forgotten.’ Live on, brother.”
Highlights of Bryant’s career played during every break, but Lillard put on a show between the whistles.
Lillard’s seven 3-pointers gave him 40 in his last five games, setting an NBA record. But even the Blazers star knew results were secondary on this unique evening.
“I don’t feel like anybody feels like we walked away as a winner tonight, given the circumstances,” Lillard said. “The memories that we’ll take away from it was just sad and just tough. It’s good that we had to compete, so being on the winning side is a positive, but I don’t think anybody walks away from this moment and this situation a winner.”
James had 22 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Anthony Davis had 37 points and 15 boards in the Lakers’ first game since last Saturday.
Hassan Whiteside scored 30 points, and C.J. McCollum added 19 for the Blazers, who were playing their third game since Bryant’s death, which seems to have affected practically everyone who picked up a basketball in the past quarter-century.
“We’ve had five days and two games to kind of understand the emotions that were going to be out there,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “I know it was a tough game for the Lakers, watching them during the tribute, during LeBron’s talk. I thought it was a difficult game for them to play. I mean, it was difficult for both teams, but I think we’ve had some time to go through the grieving process.”
The entire evening was likely both profoundly painful and cathartic for anyone who loves the Lakers or Bryant, who won five championships while playing his entire 20-year NBA career in purple and gold.
Bryant retired in 2016, but he remained a face of his only franchise and an inspiration to the current players, who learned about his death on their plane ride home from an East Coast road trip. Their next game against the Clippers was postponed, and the Lakers franchise persevered through a brutal week of coping with the loss.
“We understood this was going to be a difficult one,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We didn’t want to lose, but this week has been more about life than basketball. … We’ve got to continue to focus on the work. There’s therapy in the work.”
Several Lakers teared up during the ceremony, as did the Blazers — but after both teams took 24-second and 8-second violations off the opening tip, they lifted the heavy moment with grace.
Davis began the game with red eyes, but managed to score 18 points in the first quarter alone. The Lakers committed 13 turnovers in the first half while playing with an obvious surfeit of energy.
Lillard, the gifted California native, went wild in the third quarter, scoring 23 points and hitting six 3-pointers in a virtuoso display of offensive skill.
The Lakers then trailed by 12 in the fourth quarter before a “Kobe! Kobe!” chant broke out. They promptly made a 9-0 run, but the Blazers stayed steadily ahead.
Trail Blazers: Carmelo Anthony missed the game for what the Blazers called personal reasons. Anthony and Bryant were close friends. … Lillard became the third player in league history with at least six 3-pointers in five straight games.
Lakers: Quinn Cook, who idolized Bryant, was visibly affected by the ceremony. He checked into the game in the second quarter wearing his new No. 28 jersey, which represents Gianna (2) and Kobe (8). … Alex Caruso played despite neck soreness.
The ceremony began in a darkened arena with Usher singing “Amazing Grace.” Staples Center then showed a video of Bryant’s highlights narrated by his own voice.
James then took the microphone, discarded his prepared speech and commanded the crowd with stirring words from the heart. James joined the Lakers in 2018, and he spoke to Bryant several hours before the crash when Kobe congratulated LeBron on moving past him into third place on the NBA’s career scoring list.
Lakers public address announcer Lawrence Tanter then introduced each of the Lakers’ five starters as Kobe Bryant, drawing tears and cheers from the sellout crowd.
The Lakers, the Clippers and the NHL’s Kings all lost their emotionally charged first games at Staples Center after the death of Bryant, who played his final 17 seasons in the downtown arena.
Trail Blazers: Host the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.
Lakers: Visit the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night.
Canadiens @ Oilers: Start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch – Habs Eyes on the Prize
How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet 360 (English), TVAS (French)
The Montreal Canadiens will look to add another win on their Western-Canada-plus-Seattle road trip two nights removed from an exciting 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Thursday. The game might have been a one-goal contest, but it would’ve been a lot different if goaltender Jake Allen hadn’t stood on his head, making a whopping 45 saves in the victory, his first since November 19.
Tale of the Tape
|45.8% (24th)||Scoring-chances-for %||50,5% (17th)|
|2,78 (26th)||Goals per game||3,42 (9th)|
|3,39 (22nd)||Goals against per game||3,63 (7th)|
|15,7% (29th)||PP%||27,6% (5th)|
|82,3% (6th)||PK%||71,6% (27th)|
|1-1-0||H2H Record (’21-22)||1-1-0|
On Thursday, it was Montreal’s first overall pick from this summer’s draft, Juraj Slafkovský, who opened the scoring on the first shot of the game at 13 seconds, when Calgary all-star goaltender Jacob Markstrom decided to leave his crease to try to play the puck, which inevitably resulted in a poor miscue by the former Vezina nominee.
Habs standout Cole Caufield, who has been mesmerizing fans and brass alike, scored the eventual game-winner, a power-play marker six-and-a-half minutes into the third period for his team-leading 13th goal of the season. The man advantage has been a bit of a soft spot all season, finding itself 29th in the league, and also especially after going zero-for-six earlier in the week against San Jose, it was nice to see it clicking for once.
Thursday’s game was also a homecoming of sorts for Sean Monahan, a former 2013 first-round pick of the Calgary Flames. His return was met with a lot of chants and cheers, as opposed to Kirby Dach’s return to Chicago a week prior. Monahan, who currently sits fourth in team scoring with five goals and 16 points, assisted on both Montreal goals.
Tonight’s opponent, the Edmonton Oilers, saw their three-game winning streak come to an abrupt halt in their last game Thursday night, a 5-3 loss to Kirill ‘The Thrill’ Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild squad. The Oilers’ one-two punch of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl each had a goal and a helper in the contest, but it didn’t help their cause.
McDavid and Draisaitl have been two of the best players in the game in recent years, and yet again find themselves on pace for record-setting seasons, sitting number one and three in the NHL scoring race, respectively. McDavid’s 19 goals and 43 points through his first 24 games make his numbers last season (44 goals and 79 assists) look like a poor performance for the perennial all-star.
His German counterpart currently has 16 goals and 38 points, making his career-best totals of 55 goals and 110 points also seem well within reach, which makes these two some of the best teammates at the top of the leaderboard since the late-90s when the Pittsburgh Penguins had Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr taking the league down in a fury.
Both Edmonton goaltenders, Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner, have shared an equal workload with Mike Smith on the Long-Term Injured Reserve list. Campbell, who signed an off-season deal with the Oilers at five years and-$25 million, has put up seven wins, but a league-worst 4.12 goals-against-average.
Last season saw these two squads split the season series, with each road team getting a victory. Edmonton took the first contest, a 7-2 dismantling at the Bell Centre on January 29, and then Montreal exacted revenge on March 5, with a 5-2 victory at Rogers Place.
One bright spot for Habs last year was that of all nine of Edmonton’s goal-scorers versus Montreal, none wore the number 97. McDavid registered zero points across both contests. Just a little optimism that it can repeat itself Saturday in Alberta.
NHL Buzz: Manson out week to week for Avalanche – NHL.com
Welcome to the NHL Buzz. The 2022-23 regular season is underway, and NHL.com has you covered with all the latest news.
Josh Manson is out week to week for the Avalanche because of a lower-body injury.
The defenseman, who sustained the injury in a 6-4 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, has six points (two goals, four assists) in 21 games this season.
Andreas Englund was recalled from Colorado of the American Hockey League. He has one assist in four games with the Avalanche this season.
“Englund has played good when he’s been up with us,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “I really like what he did when he was up. … Just another big (6-foot-3, 189 pounds), heavy, strong guy that’s been an efficient puck mover for us on the back end.”
Teuvo Teravainen could return for the Hurricanes on Saturday one day after the forward was activated off injured reserve.
Teravainen, who has missed the past 10 games with an upper-body injury, has seven assists in 14 games this season.
Carolina plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET; BSW, BSSO, ESPN+, SN NOW).
Cam Atkinson said he’s getting closer to making his season debut, but the forward remains day to day because of an upper-body injury.
Atkinson added he’s been fully cleared for contact and is not restricted in any way.
“It’s obviously good to be back with everyone and take a little bit of licks and see how I do,” Atkinson said. “Just day to day for me right now.
“It’s been pretty good. A little bit of an adjustment but just working out the kinks. I’m getting close, but not enough to where I think I can help this team right now. But I’m closer than not.”
Atkinson was second on the Flyers in goals (23) and points (50) last season. Entering Saturday, Philadelphia was last in the NHL in goals per game (2.38).
Atkinson said the nature of his injury has allowed him to skate and stay in shape that way but that it might take a game or two for him to get his timing with the puck back to normal.
“If I was playing and if we had a day off, even one day off, even if I played 30 games and I took a day off, I still feel like that next practice my timing is just a little bit off,” he said. “Maybe it’s more mental than not. So obviously not playing any games it’s going to take a game or two to get adjusted, but we’re on a pretty good schedule for me right now. I’ve revved it up a lot and I’m feeling good. I feel like my timing is pretty solid, but you really won’t know until you play a game.” — Adam Kimelman
World Cup Daily: Timeless Messi is on a mission for Argentina – Sportsnet.ca
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