Utah Jazz: Bryant feels the love from fans in final SLC appearance
In focus • Bryant hears cheers from the Utah faithful, then is part of a 48-point loss.
Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune
Kobe Bryant is blocked by Rudy Gobert during a game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Monday, March 28, 2016.
Almost in unison, the sellout crowd at Vivint Smart Home Arena stood and gave Kobe Bryant a rousing sendoff, a standing ovation in the moments before the Utah Jazz destroyed Los Angeles with a 123-75 shellacking.
Then they chanted his name on multiple occasions.
It didn't matter to Bryant, who is retiring at the end of the season, that many of those fans wore Lakers jerseys. For Bryant, it did matter that Jazz fans — who have been notoriously rough on Bryant over the years — were among the well-wishers.
"It's really, really different to be cheered for here," Bryant said. "They [the fans] are as brutal as you can get. So it feels good to have that response."
It's clear that the end of the line is here for one of the best players to ever grace an NBA court. Bryant can no longer move laterally. Shots he used to make in his sleep fell woefully short. And his only made field goal of the game was a baseline turnaround jumper that he drained early in the first half.
For the game, Bryant was 1 of 11 from the field in 27 minutes. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts and scored five points. He was an astounding minus-43 for the game, and he managed just two assists with that total.
But it was evident Bryant is the same fierce competitor he's always been. And he has the same enormous pride that made him one of the NBA's best. When Jazz forward Rodney Hood torched the Lakers for 30 first half points, it was Bryant who went to Los Angeles coach Byron Scott and asked to guard Hood in the second half.
"It's a damn shame our oldest player has to take that challenge," Scott said. "It says a lot about him, obviously. It's what he's done all his life. But nobody else wanted to step up and take that challenge."
Bryant simply wouldn't let Hood catch the ball in the third quarter. He face-guarded him and denied him all over the court. He harassed Hood and put as much pressure on the ball as he could whenever he did catch the ball.
As a result, Hood finished the game with the same 30 points he accumulated in the first half. Of course, that didn't matter much at all. But it does signal Bryant is going to give the remaining eight games of his career everything he has.
But physically, there's not much remaining to give.
Bryant's relationship with Jazz fans has been as contentious as with any group in the league. But on Monday night, Jazz fans sent him away with a nice present. In that standing ovation, they showed Bryant how much they appreciated his talent and his impact on the NBA.
"I'll miss the environment," Bryant said. "This building is special because there are so many memories just walking in. I'll miss the bus pulling down into the tunnel, getting out, walking these halls and just getting onto the court. Just the entire environment, I have so many memories."