Kobe had a vintage performance with 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting in 32 minutes, and kept the Lakers in it for much of the first half with a flurry of shots to keep pace with James.
Kyrie Irving had 26 points and James had 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds to lead the Cavaliers to an easy 120-106 win, but Bryant putting on a show made for a fitting ending to the James-Bryant saga.
Unfortunately, James and Bryant never met in the NBA Finals even though one of the two players has been in the finals the past nine years. The win moved James to 16-6 over Bryant. Thursday's game fit the model of previous James-Bryant games: James and his team has the upper hand, but two all-time greats know how to put on a show.
Bryant got to have a little bit of fun at James' expense -- he got the star to bite on a pump fake early on.
The Lakers hung tight for a half, and, even in a loss, at least looked like an NBA basketball team -- which wasn't the case as much as a month ago. In fact, the Lakers have even been fun to watch. It's not just Bryant, the young guns are getting out and running. Julius Randle had 15 points and nine rebounds and was showing off his handle and athleticism, driving to the bucket when he had the chance. Coach Byron Scott has been letting his young stars like Randle, D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson run free as of late, and it has to give at least a little bit of hope to Lakers fans.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have now won four of five and have turned the table after their miserable loss to a depleted Memphis Grizzlies team on Monday. The defense had lapses, but James had the offense firing on all cylinders. Channing Frye had his best game with the Cavaliers as Kevin Love sat out with 21 points as he went 5-of-7 from deep. The Cavaliers were 16-of-35 from deep on the night
The Cavaliers may have a tougher road to the finals than they did in 2015, but if they're offense is rolling like it did against the Lakers they'll be playing in the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year.
2 other things
Kawhi Leonard leads the San Antonio Spurs in so many different ways
Through three quarters, the Spurs were 4-of-13 from three -- Leonard was 4-for-5. He ended the night with 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting and seven rebounds as the Spurs held off the Bulls, 109-101. Praise has been heaped on Leonard all season long, and it's well deserved -- especially on his improved three-point shooting.
Kawhi's 3-point percentage— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) March 11, 2016
He's consistently been the best player for one of the best regular season teams in NBA history. Not that he doesn't have help. LaMarcus Aldridge continued his string of great play with 26 points and 10 rebounds and Tony Parker added 20 points and 12 assists. The Spurs moved to 31-0 at home this season and won their 40th straight in San Antonio, it's too bad for them the Warriors still have a three-game lead for that No. 1 spot in the West.
The Bulls, meanwhile, put up a valiant effort without Jimmy Butler. They hit 11-of-22 from deep to stay in the game as Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol did their best with 21 points apiece. They were within four with 6:30 left in the game, but then the Spurs bolted to a 13-point lead over the next 4:30. The loss dropped the Bulls to 32-31, a half-game behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth playoff spot in the East.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are one of the best duos in the league
The Raptors one-two punch might not be quite as good Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook or the Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson-Draymond Green trio in Oakland, but Lowry and DeRozan should have the Cleveland Cavaliers nervous in the East. Against the Hawks, DeRozan had 30 pints on 11-of-20 shooting and got to the line nine times. He is a non-stop attacker:
Lowry, on the other hand, is the heart of the team. He had a relatively tame 19 points and seven assists, but when a big play is needed he's going to make it.
The Raptors faded after the All-Star Game last season, but that isn't the case this year -- they're 7-3 since the break. At 43-20, a 50-win season is a real possibility. The goal now is making a run in the playoffs. With Lowry and DeRozan it's a real possibility.
Play of the night
Lebron James makes things look too easy. This dunk seems like another run-of-the-mill alley-oop off the backboard (because those happen all the time), but he was not expecting to have to jump across the lane and grab the ball with his left hand. It was a pretty bad pass by J.R. Smith, but James dunked it home anyway.
4 fun things
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