On a night when he set another franchise record, Damian Lillard’s thoughts were not on his game. They were on Kobe Bryant.
Lillard on Sunday had 50 points and 13 assists, becoming the first Portland player with 40-plus points in three straight games, as the Trail Blazers beat the Indiana Pacers 139-129 on a day marked by grief over the death of the NBA great.
“I think it was the right decision for us to go out there and compete today in his honor. I think that’s what he would have wanted,” Lillard said. “Obviously, throughout the game you think about it. The timeouts, and just random dead moments of the game, he’s on your mind, because it’s just such an unfortunately sad situation. It was a tough game to play as far as your energy and where your heart is, to say the least.”
The Trail Blazers honored Bryant with 24 seconds of silence before the game and the team took a 24-second shot-clock violation at the start, before the Pacers took an eight-second timeline penalty, recognizing Bryant’s shirt numbers.
Several fans at the Moda Center wore Lakers jerseys, saluting a player who spent his entire career with Los Angeles.
C.J. McCollum returned after a three-game absence because of an ankle injury and added 28 points for the Blazers (20-27). Hassan Whiteside had 21 points and 14 rebounds.
Domantas Sabonis, whose father Arvydas played for the Blazers, had 27 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds for the Pacers in his second career triple-double.
His first came the previous Sunday in Denver, Colorado.
“We’ve been having a lot of injuries all year so I just wanted to come out, be aggressive and help the team any way I can,” Sabonis said.
Indiana (30-17) have not won in Portland since the 2007-2008 season, a streak of 11 games.
However, there was a pall over the game because of the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, one of his daughters and seven others in southern California. Both coaches spoke about Bryant before the game.
“Anytime you played against him, you knew you were going to get his best effort. That’s just the way he played the game,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.
Pacers coach Nate McMillan was an assistant for US national teams that featured Bryant in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. A former coach of the Trail Blazers, McMillan recalled how Bryant once scored 65 points against Portland.
“He’s a guy that, as he was growing up, I think there was that commercial: ‘I want to be like Mike.’ He wanted to be like Mike, and now he has young kids saying: ‘I want to be like Kobe,’” McMillan said. “I had the opportunity 2008, 2012 to see those great guys: Kobe, Wade and LeBron work, and he really set the example in 2008 for how he prepared, and how the world respected him — the attention he got in Beijing. It was unreal to see how those fans there treated him and respected him.”
NBA veteran Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 14 points for the Blazers, choked up while talking about Bryant after the game.
They were teammates on the Olympic team and had spoken just a few days previously.
“Our friendship, our relationship, was deeper than basketball,” Anthony said. “It was family. It was friendship. Basketball was the last piece of connective tissue between us two.”
Elsewhere, the Pelicans crushed the Celtics 123-108, the Knicks beat the Nets 110-97, the Hawks soared past the Wizards 152-133, the Clippers caned the Magic 112-97, the Nuggets defeated the Rockets 117-110, the Raptors sank the Spurs 110-106 and the Grizzlies eclipsed the Suns 114-109.
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