INDIANAPOLIS – During his final stops at various arenas, Kobe Bryant has said he wants to give fans a good show, something that they’ll remember from their last trip to see him in person.
For a nearly two-minute stretch in the fourth quarter Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers icon delivered exactly what Indiana Pacers fans were hoping to see -- one of his patented scoring flurries in which he seemed unstoppable.
In his final game in Indianapolis, Bryant kicked off his deluge with a jumper with 4:15 left. Then he buried a 25-foot 3-pointer from the right wing with Pacers’ star Paul George guarding him tightly. Then Bryant nailed a 23-foot 3-pointer in the right corner with George closing on him fast.
And finally, with 2:30 left, Bryant buried a 27-foot 3-pointer from the top of the key with George and another defender on him.
As the shots kept falling, the crowd kept roaring louder and louder, turning Bankers Life Fieldhouse into Staples Center East. Fans chanted “Ko-be!” and Bryant’s last shot gave the Lakers a three-point lead in a game that the Lakers would ultimately lose 89-87.
“For a second, I was stunned,” George said. “He hit shot after shot after shot.”
But Bryant wasn’t too impressed. He jokingly said his reaction to that hot streak was, “About time.” Bryant felt that way because before those four straight makes, he was shooting an atrocious 2-for-16 from the field.
And after those four makes, Bryant missed his final five shots.
“I made a shot and then went back to shooting like s---,” Bryant said with a laugh. “I pulled the rabbit out of the hat and the rabbit disappeared.”
Before the game, Bryant said he wasn’t sure when he would have good games or when he would struggle. He just knew that it would either go one way or the other, as it has been all season.
“It’s either been s--- or Shinola,” he said with a laugh.
His field goal percentage of 24 (6-for-25) ties his third lowest such percentage ever in a game with 25 or more field goal attempts. His worst such shooting effort came on April 5, 2002, when Bryant shot 5 of 26 in a loss in Boston.
The 37-year-old Bryant, who finished with 19 points, said his body felt “horrible.”
“Just trying to get loose, man,” he added. “The last two games have been like that. Starting out, just being completely locked up, and as the game goes on, I kind of loosen up a little bit more; but the last two games at the start have been pretty tough. I got to make a little adjustment between now and [Wednesday’s] game in Cleveland and try to start the games a little looser.”
Speaking of such changes, Bryant said he needs more treatment and stretching.
Lakers coach Byron Scott said he was fine with Bryant’s shot selection late, even though several shots were deep 3-pointers when Bryant was well-guarded.
“He hit three big ones for us, so I wasn’t going to go away from him then,” Scott said.
Scott also said of Bryant’s shooting, “Sometimes you live and die with it, and I’m willing to do that with him.”
Pacers coach Frank Vogel praised Bryant, calling him “great” and “one of the best ever.”
‘I’m not unhappy that’s the last time I face Kobe,” Vogel said.
The game was sealed when George made a driving layup on Bryant and was fouled. George, a Southern California native who grew up watching Bryant, made the free throw, giving the Pacers the edge for good.
“For me to finish the game off with a layup and a drive with him guarding, this one was an epic finish, a special finish,” George said.
The loss dropped the Lakers to 11-43.
In his final game in Indiana, Bryant largely reflected on his first NBA Finals, which came against the Pacers in 2000. The Lakers would win the series four games to two, giving Bryant the first of his five championships.
“I was excited, extremely excited,” Bryant said of that series. “It’s different. Like if I compare it to our last championship [in 2010] against the Celtics, the mentality was much different because I had won four [titles], so it’s like, ‘OK, we can’t lose this one.’ Whereas the first one was, ‘I can’t wait to win this one.’
“When it’s the first time around, you kind of have this young ignorance of just going out there and playing, and losing wasn’t even a thought that even crossed my mind. It was like, 'I’m just going out there and going to work,' whereas in the later stages of your career, you become more conscious of the opportunity of failure.”
Walking back into the locker room brought back memories too.
“I had a different seat in the locker room today than when we came here in the Finals, but I was kind of looking over where I was sitting, and I remember getting ready and all the treatment on the [sprained] ankle and remembering all the energy in the building and getting ready to run out for this Finals matchup. It all just kind of came back to me and remembering that this was the start of the run.”
Bryant also praised Pacers fans.
“When I played here, these fans were always very tough,” he said. “From what I can tell, watching college basketball on TV, it’s as close to college basketball as you can get with the sections that they have and the chanting and things like that. They’ve always been pretty tough on me here. Tonight at the end to get a thank-you chant from them, it was very special.”
Bryant walked off the court to chants and a standing ovation, as he has in virtually every arena this season, his 20th and final season in the league.