The Los Angeles Clippers took the court Thursday night at Staples Center for the first time since Angelenos, friends, family and fans across the globe tragically lost its basketball hero.
Clippers players wore KB24 patches on the front of their warmup shirts and a No. 8 or 24 on the back, paying homage of the jerseys Kobe Bryant wore during his career with the Lakers that lasted 20 legendary years.
Just prior to tipoff, they held an emotional two-minute video tribute narrated by Paul George to honor Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and the seven other victims that perished in a helicopter crash near Calabasas last Sunday morning.
Bryant’s retired numbers 8 and 24 Lakers jerseys were also featured in the tribute and lit up in the high left corner of the arena.
“I think from this point on, it’s always going to be tough,” George said. “It just is what it is, especially being here in L.A. It’s always going to be tough. I think every time we’re in this arena, being reminded of him just being in the rafters, you’re always are going to have a reminder.”
Both teams had to manage playing through an emotionally draining game, but it was the Kings who defeated the Clippers 124-103 thanks to a career night by De’Aaron Fox and an efficient night overall offensively.
Fox scored a career-high 34 points, Buddy Hield added 19 and Cory Joseph had 16 while Sacramento (18-30) made a franchise-record 21 three-pointers on 51.2 percent shooting.
“I’m really proud of the way our guys played,” said Kings coach Luke Walton, who was a teammate of Bryant’s during the Lakers championship runs. “We came in down and tired after playing last night (a 20-point loss to Oklahoma City) and then came into an emotional situation in what has been a very tough week.”
Lou Williams had 22 points and Montrezl Harrell added 21 for the Los Angeles (33-15), who were without the services of Kawhi Leonard due to tightness in his lower back.
George struggled in his return after missing the last nine games because of a hamstring strain and had only eight points in 19 minutes. Patrick Beverley, who had missed three games because of a sore groin and back returned and had 11 in 24 minutes of play.
“Kawhi scratches literally five seconds before the game,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We got Paul on a minute’s restriction, Pat on a minute’s restriction, [Landry] Shamet on a minute’s restriction. So, it was hard.”
“Give them credit,” Rivers added. “They played last night. They were in a very good rhythm and they played hard. They executed their stuff. We were clearly flat in every area. It was tough too, basketball-wise.”
The Clippers led 33-28 through the first 12 minutes of play but the Kings took complete control of the game in the second.
Sacramento outscored Los Angeles by 22 to take a 64-47 advantage at halftime. Sacramento went on a 22-4 run and made nine threes with Joseph leading the way with 12 points in the period. The Kings had 24 fast break points while the Clippers had only 7 during the game.
Los Angeles got as close as 14 in the third, but the deficit then ballooned back up to 23 in the fourth after Hield made a running jump shot followed by a Fox dunk with 4:58 remaining in the game, 112-89.
“We’ll just chalk this one up, get back in the gym, get back to work,” Rivers said. “I’m glad it’s behind us though. Though we didn’t win, I think the game, this now will help us a little bit.”
With the 124-103 loss, George admitted that he knew it would be an emotional night with honoring Bryant, a person he looked up to so much.
“We had a couple of days to digest it, mourn from it. The fact of the matter is any time we honor Kobe it’s going to be emotional. But I don’t think that had an effect on tonight,” George said.
“He made a lot of sacrifices to be a winner, Kobe did, and so for us to win, we’re going to have to do the same thing, otherwise we will not win. So, I think that’s our journey now as well,” Rivers said.