With just over three minutes left in last Friday’s game against Golden State, Kobe Bryant walked off the court for the last time this season. Since then, the Lakers have won every game, securing the seventh seed in the Western Conference. In doing so, they avoid the defending Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.
The Lakers shot 36.7% in their last game against Houston. They shouldn’t have won that game. But they did. The Rockets hit a three at the end of regulation to force overtime. The Lakers were supposed to crumble without their closer. But they didn’t. They didn’t because they stepped up their defense. Their collective effort forced stop after stop. Even when the Lakers turned the ball over, they ran back and forced a miss. When they missed a jumper, they got back and blocked a shot. And when the Rockets made their only shot of the extra period, Jodie Meeks drove to the basket and threw one down.
Kobe’s ruptured Achilles awakened the heart of this Lakers team. His last two points of the season brought the Staples Center crowd to its feet, and on their feet they stayed until the Overtime buzzer that brought an end to the regular season. The hurt and devastation that stormed L.A. that Friday night were quickly replaced by hope and promise. The clouds cleared. The sun came back out. Because we all know what our team is capable of. Because Coach Vino will be on the bench every step of the way. Because winning is all we know.
The Lakers started the season 0-3. They were below .500 until March. They were plagued by injuries all season long. They weren’t supposed to be here. They weren’t supposed to make the playoffs. But they did. As the seventh seed, no less. And they’re playing inspired basketball. For Kobe. For Dr. Buss. For the city of Angels. For that 17th banner.