By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY – For the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angels Lakers, their matchup Monday night was irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. The fact the Thunder won 112-79 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena wasn’t going to get them any closer to winning the NBA title or knock the Lakers out of playoff contention.
However, with it being the final road game in the 20-year career of Kobe Bryant, the night was treated with all the pomp-and-circumstance of a postseason encounter.
But at the end of the day, the stars of the Thunder really just wanted to make sure Bryant got the type of send off they knew he would respect.
“I remember when Michael Jordan was on his way out and Kobe didn’t take it easy on him,” Kevin Durant said. “That’s all I was thinking. I was trying to destroy him every chance I got. Every time I got the ball, he was ‘Come on. Let’s see what you got.’ That shows what type of player, what type of competitor he is. I just wanted to play against him one last time.”
Durant scored 34 points on 11 of 18 shooting from the field. He was also 6 of 11 from behind the 3-point line to extend his streak of scoring at least 20 points to 64 straight games.
Russell Westbrook posted 13 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists. His 18 triple-doubles is the most by any player for one season in the past 30 years. It’s a stat that even Bryant had to admire.
“I have never seen guy get as many triples doubles as many times as he has in a season,” Bryant said. “That is pretty outrageous what he has been able to do all year long. He has been flying under the radar because of what Steph (Curry) is doing up there in Golden State. But He is having a remarkable season himself.”
Steven Adams posted 13 points and 15 rebounds as the Thunder improved to 55-26 with one game left Tuesday in San Antonio.
Bryant posted 13 points on 4 of 12 shooting. With the end to his 20-year NBA career coming Wednesday in L.A., he played only 19 minutes.
Metta World Peace came off the bench to score 12 points. Rookie DeAngelo Russell added 11 points as the Lakers dropped to 16-65.
Los Angeles will close out its season and Bryant’s career Wednesday at home. It’s something Bryant is eying with anticipation.
“I feel really excited,” Bryant said. “I feel really happy. I’m looking forward to lacing them up one more time.”
Oklahoma City will finish the regular season with a 32-9 home record. That is fourth best in the NBA behind San Antonio, Golden State and Cleveland.
Those who thought Bryant was going to take it easy before heading home for the last game of his career got a rude awakening when he took the floor against the Thunder. He played the entire first quarter and scored 13 points on 4 of 10 shooting. That included raining down three 3-pointers as the Lakers trailed by six.
Bryant and Durant challenged each other several times throughout the game. On one series, Durant shot a 3-pointer and missed. Adams got the rebound for the Thunder and Bryant yelled at Adams to give the ball back to Durant.
“I shook Kobe’s hand,” Adams said after the game. “I ain’t going to wash my hand for like a week.”
After trailing by 10 at half, the Lakers were overwhelmed in the third quarter. The Thunder used a 19-0 run to knock the fight out of the young visitors.
Durant did most of the damage as he poured in 16 points in the quarter to put the contest away.
As impressive and energetic as Bryant was early, Westbrook once again showed that he is not affected by nostalgia. He posted a triple-double in the first half with 11 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds.
The 18 minutes was the least amount of time in his career to get a triple-double. It was also just one minute off the fastest in NBA history. That record belongs to Jim Tucker in 1955. Westbrook now has five triple-doubles under 30 minutes playing time. The rest of the league has one.
Bryant said he knows he is leaving the league in good hands with the likes of Durant and Westbrook, who he feels a special connection with due to their personalities.
“I didn’t smile much on the court either,” Bryant said. “He plays the game with such energy, such aggressiveness, it needs to be appreciated. He is not out there trying to be cute with the basketball. He’s not out there trying to look fancy. This guys playing hard every time down.”