When you talk about the last day of the regular season, usually the storylines revolve around playoff races and figuring out who's going to play who in a couple days. All that took a backseat to history in two different ways Wednesday as the NBA saw out former greatness and witnessed present-day greatness all in one night.
As Kobe Bryant said his goodbyes to a swooning crowd at the Staples Center with one last dazzling performance, the Golden State Warriors made history at the Oracle by winning their NBA-record 73rd game. It was a special night for basketball, one full of nostalgia and reminders that the future remains incredibly exciting.
Anyone who has watched Stephen Curry and the Warriors this season knows how magical this season was. The team not only topped the Chicago Bulls' vaunted 72-10 record, but did it while playing a style that's going to transform the league. Remember when the 30-foot shot was a move of desperation? Not anymore.
Curry was as brilliant as always in the Warriors' 125-104 win over Memphis, hitting a whole bunch of threes early to avoid any headaches. The reigning (and likely repeating) MVP became the first player in league history to hit 400 threes in a season as part of his effort, a fitting accomplishment for a player who has transcended the definition of what a great shooter can be.
And yet, despite scoring 46 points and leading his team to 73 wins, Curry's history making in Oakland got overshadowed by the show Bryant put on in LA.
Kobe closed out his career the only way he could -- a grandiose 50-shot, 60-point scoring effort that'll go into the annals of NBA history. For a 37-year-old who has battled injuries and ineffectiveness over the past couple years, this was a sendoff unlike anything you could've imagined. Nobody in the NBA scored 60 this season until Kobe did it in his last game ever. Nobody has taken more shots in a game since the league started recording field goal attempts.
The Lakers ended up beating the Jazz, 101-96, but on this night, individual performances trumped team wins. That became apparent as Twitter was consumed by Bryant's miraculous scoring effort while another team was setting the league record for wins. If you need any greater example of Kobe's popularity and ability to live up to the moment, you won't get one, nor should you need one. Celebrities went crazy over Kobe. Fellow NBA players went crazy over Kobe.
The NBA regular season is over, but Wednesday was a reminder of why this sport is so special. Kobe might be gone, but Steph and the Warriors won't be going anywhere soon.
2 other things
More from Kobe's grand farewell
Where do you even start with a performance like this one? Kobe spent most of his farewell season looking fully ready to retire, then showed up for the last game of his career and put up the biggest scoring performance by any player this season. It was pure Kobe and the perfect way for him to say goodbye to Laker fans.
You could tell it was going to be that kind of night early on:
Kobe's shot came and went at times, but when you take 50 shots, you can afford to go through some ebbs and flows. It's impressive that Kobe had the legs at age 37 to play that many minutes and take that many shots, even if it's because he doesn't plan on playing again. Some of these shots were simply ridiculous.
Kobe has always done stuff like this, but in recent years, it's been increasingly rare. This was truly a night unlike any other, and that never seemed lost on Kobe as he took it all in throughout the proceedings. Once it was all over, he gave fans one last speech before leaving the hardwood:
The Rockets are playoff-bound
Unfortunately their reward is a first-round matchup against the Warriors. Houston has to be thrilled to sneak into the postseason with a 41-41 record after beating the Sacramento Kings, 116-81, on Wednesday night. The team needed a win to clinch the berth and left no doubt with the blowout.
However, the team's prize for rallying through a tumultuous season to reach the playoffs is a meeting with the best team in league history. The Warriors are fresh off their 73-win campaign and look as unbeatable as any team entering the postseason in a very, very long time. While it's been nice to see the Rockets find some success after stumbling badly enough to fire head coach Kevin McHale early in the season, it seems that the good times will be ending soon.
The two teams played three times during the regular season and Golden State won all of them by an average of 12.3 points. It doesn't sound like fans in Houston are very optimistic about their team's chances, either.
Play of the night
Kobe hit 11,719 field goals in his NBA career. This was the final one.