PHOENIX — The “Kobe!” chants began well before tip-off and continued throughout the game with one final serenade when he exited with 65 seconds to play.
In his final NBA appearance in Phoenix, Kobe Bryant scored 17 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers late the fourth quarter, flashing the Bryant shooting touch one last time much to the delight of the 18,191 in attendance at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Call it a win-win for the soldout crowd as the Phoenix Suns won Bryant’s farewell, beating the L.A. Lakers, 119-107.
Devin Booker, Brandon Knight and Jon Leuer all had 20-point performances.
Booker scored a game-high 28 on 12-of-22 shooting to go along with seven assists as he finally found himself matched up against his childhood idol, Bryant, who did not play in the first three meetings this season.
Knight added 25 and Leuer 22, plus a career-high 14 rebounds for his second straight double-double, a career first.
Knight had six points—two consecutive 3s—and Leuer, who got the start in place of the injured Tyson Chandler (back spams), five during an 11-0 Suns’ fourth-quarter run after the Lakers (15-56) closed to within four, 98-94.
The victory was the Suns’ 10th in a row at home over the Lakers, matching their longest home winning streak all-time against their Pacific Division rivals.
And while the win did give the Suns (20-51) the season series, 3-1, it cost them in the upside-down standings as they now own the league’s fourth-worst record, finding themselves a half-game back of Brooklyn.
Playing all 12 first-quarter minutes, Booker accounted for 12 of the Suns’ 16 points. He scored nine and assisted Ronnie Price’s 22-foot 3-pointer that pulled the Suns to within eight, 22-14 at 1:04. Booker made a pair of lay-ups plus hit a 21-foot jumper and nine-foot turnaround jump shot. He finished the period 4-of-8, with not a single field goal attempt from beyond the arc, and 1-of-2 from the foul line. He also added a rebound and steal.
Over the last two minutes of the second quarter, the Suns outscored the Lakers 10-2 to tie the game at 47 going into halftime. Knight had half of those points, including a fastbreak lay-up that momentarily gave the Suns the lead before a Jordan Clarkson dunk with :03 left. Knight finished the period with nine points, making 4-of-7 shots plus 1-of-2 free throws; giving him 11 at the break, his fourth straight game in double figures.
Both Booker and Mirza Teletovic scored 11 third-quarter points. Nine of Teletovic’s points—three 3s over a four-possession stretch—came in the midst of a 24-9 run that gave the Suns their largest lead of the period, 77-63 at 3:56. He had entered the game after Alex Len’s fourth foul. Teletovic, by the way, set a Suns franchise record for most 3-pointers in a season by a reserve, previously held by Danny Ainge (150) in 1992-93.
The Suns recorded 52 rebounds, which marks the 17th game of the season with 50 or more boards. The 17 games matches their 2004-05 season for the most 50-plus rebounds games in a season since 1993-94 (18 times). Leuer had a career-high 14 rebounds, while P.J. Tucker added 13 to become the first Suns teammates to record 13 or more boards since Jermaine O’Neal and Marcin Gortat on Feb. 27, 2013, at San Antonio.
Checking into the game at 5:46 of the first quarter, Lou Williams wasted little time hitting a pair of 3s, the second of which became a four-point play after a foul by Teletovic. Williams’ 3-pointers bookended a 9-0 run that put the Lakers ahead 22-11 at 1:17. It was their largest lead of the period. Bryant, by the way, went 2-of-4 for six points plus one rebound, an assist and a blocked shot as the Lakers ended the quarter with a 22-16 advantage.
With Bryant on the bench to open the second quarter, the Lakers, after two missed field goals, scored on seven consecutive offensive possessions with Brandon Bass, Marcelo Huertas and Metta World Peace each scoring four points. D’Angelo Russell, listed as questionable prior to the game because of a bruised left shin, finished the stretch with a six-foot floater to cap a 12-2 run that put the Lakers ahead, 36-26 at 7:01.
The Suns had no answer for Julius Randle, who scored 11 third-quarter points and added five rebounds, both team-high marks. Randle opened the period with a three-point play, had two lay-ups and made all five of his free throw attempts. Through three quarters, he had totaled 19 points and 11 rebounds, giving him consecutive double-doubles and his third in the last four games. It was his 31st double-double of the season.
Adding all 87 career games against the Suns, playoffs included, Bryant finished with 2,330 points, second to only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most points scored against the Suns. Bryant’s final 26.8 points per game is the highest scoring average for any player to face the Suns at least 35 times. Bryant also finishes with 1,148 career points at Talking Stick Resort Arena, the only opposing player with at least 1,000 points in the venue.
STAT OF THE GAME
31: The number of Suns’ assists, which set a season-high and are the most by the team since Dec. 8, 2014, at the L.A. Clippers (32).
HE SAID IT
“It was a a lot of fun to have the building look like that,” Knight said. “Definitely appreciate Kobe for all he’s done for the game and paving the way for us younger guys, just like we paved the way for him. He did a great job just helping the game get to the stage where it’s at today, so we appreciate him. And the fans, they know what he did for the game as well so that’s why they’re here in full force sending him out with a great goodbye.”
– Chandler missed his 12th game of the season, sitting out previous contests because of illness and injury (right hamstring strain and right shoulder bruise).
– The Knight-Booker-Tucker-Leuer-Len starting lineup had been used twice before, losses to Cleveland and at San Antonio on Dec. 28 and 30, respectively.
– For the third straight game Archie Goodwin was a DNP-Coach’s Decision as Watson again gave those bench minutes to fellow combo guard John Jenkins.
– Among those in attendance for Bryant’s final appearance were Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and defensive lineman Calais Campbell.
Before a weekend home meeting with Boston, the Suns will travel to Sacramento to play DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and the Kings on Friday, March 25. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
The teams have split the first two of four games this season with the Kings winning the most recent matchup, taking advantage of a porous Suns defense.
Sacramento scored more points in a regulaion game than any Suns opponent since 1990 as the Kings shot better than 60 percent from the field in a 142-119 win at Sleep Train Arena on Jan. 2. The Kings’ 142 points were the most by any Suns opponent since 144 by Washington in an overtime game in 2006-07, and the most in a regulation game since 155 by Chicago in 1990-91.
The Kings also became the first Suns opponent to shoot over 60 percent since Dallas in 2008-09 as they shot 60.9 percent.
Cousins scored 23 of his 32 points in the first half and Darren Collison scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half to lead the Kings.
Knight (23) and Booker (21) were the top two scorers for the Suns.
Overall, the Suns have won 26 of the last 38 in the series.
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