TORONTO – The atmosphere was thick with purple and gold as Kobe’s last game in Toronto neared tip-off. At introduction he received an ovation that shook the Air Canada Centre and it didn’t diminish any time he touched the ball throughout the game.
Speaking post-game to assembled media, Kobe said he was blown away by the fan support, and as he walked off the court near the end of a 102-93 Raptors victory he heard the crowd erupt one last time.
Kobe scored 21 in the loss, but his career-long impact on the NBA and basketball north of the border was best acknowledged by Los Angeles-native DeMar DeRozan.
“It was an honour,” DeRozan said of his time spent with Kobe. “It’s a sad day. It’s a little bit of everything just to see him walking away from the game, especially someone I idolized and grew up watching.”
“When I’m old I can add in stories that I played against Kobe like a lot of older players do about Michael Jordan.”
A different era is beginning, one where the Raptors have swept the season-series against the Lakers for the first time in franchise history.
Toronto (13-9) was led by Kyle Lowry with 27 points, seven rebounds, and six assists, Bismack Biyombo showed some swagger with a finger wag after a blocked shot, and notched a new career-high with 15 points to go with 13 rebounds.
DeMarre Carroll was inactive with a couple of nagging injuries and will sit indefinitely after seeing a specialist for his bothersome knee. Terrence Ross scored 22 in a starting role.
Before the game, coach Casey acknowledged the Raptors were still more of a slow-down, back to the basket team. Assists have actually decreased without 2015’s Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams – 20.7/g last year and 18.1/g so far. Lou was quiet with 15 points in his Toronto return, but moreso overshadowed by Kobe’s hoopla.
While it was certainly Kobe’s last NBA appearance in Toronto in a Lakers uniform, he’ll be back for All-Star festivities and a lock to be voted into the starting lineup by fans in purple and gold wherever he goes.
The Raptors play next when they host San Antonio at home Wednesday.