When Kobe Bryant scored 36 points to lead the 2011-12 Los Angeles Lakers to a Game 3 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in their second-round series, fans of the team likely believed they’d be able to witness their favorite player lead them to dozens more playoff victories before he finally called it a career. At 34-years-old, Bryant was aging, but still a superstar, and only months later, the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash and became Western Conference favorites.
But that game would not only be Bryant’s last playoff victory at Staples Center, but the team’s last postseason home win until Thursday, when LeBron James and Anthony Davis helped the Lakers defeat the Phoenix Suns 109-95 to take a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.
Thursday’s win was also the Lakers’ first home playoff game since Bryant died in a helicopter crash in January 2020, but fans yet again honored his memory by chanting his name in the closing seconds of the victory.
Though the Lakers last won a home playoff game in 2012, they last played one in 2013. Bryant tore his Achilles in the process of dragging his disappointing team to the playoffs. He was never the same after that injury and retired in 2016. It took the Lakers a few years to right the ship by signing James and trading for Davis. For both James and Davis, Thursday was their playoff debut at Staples Center. Last season’s playoffs were held entirely in the Orlando bubble.
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Bryant rarely attended Laker games after his retirement, but it’s not hard to imagine him making an exception for such a big moment. Bryant was a student of Laker history, and James and Davis playing their first home postseason games in Los Angeles certainly qualifies. Lakers fans made sure he was there in spirit.