LeBron James spoiled Kobe Bryant’s Cleveland finale on Wednesday as the Cavaliers cruised past the Los Angeles Lakers in a victory overshadowed by an injury to Kevin Love.
Kyrie Irving scored 35 points and James added 29 as the Cavs romped home 120-111 against the Lakers, before the Cleveland fans bade a fond farewell to the retiring Bryant.
Bryant finished with 17 points and six rebounds while shooting just five of 16 for the Lakers.
However, the Cavaliers victory was marred by an alarming injury to Love, who left the game in the final minute of the second quarter after a tangle with Bryant.
Love yelled out in pain after Bryant’s arm appeared to catch his shoulder. It was the same left shoulder which saw Love sidelined for six months after surgery last year.
A Cavaliers source said the injury did not appear to be as serious as the previous shoulder problem and that Love had left the match out of an abundance of caution.
Bryant meanwhile shared an embrace with James as he left the court for the final time with one minute left on the clock as the Cavaliers support rose in a standing ovation.
Bryant and James have always had a mutual respect. Lakers legend Bryant revealed before Wednesday’s match that the two players were closer than many fans realized.
“We’ve been close. We talk on the phone probably more than people know,” said Bryant, who announced in November that he would retire at the end of this season.
“We talk about the game, we talk about different strategies that center around the game. We talk about different things off the court. Business related, players association related. We speak, there is much more communication than people want to (believe).”
Bryant and James will have one more encounter when the Cavaliers face the Lakers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles next month.
Between them they have combined to play in the last nine NBA finals, although oddly they have never faced each other in competition for basketball’s biggest prize.
There is no chance of that changing in Bryant’s farewell season, with the Lakers having the worst record in the Western Conference, a miserable 11-44 for the season.
Only the Philadelphia 76ers (8-45) have a worse record. The Cavaliers improved to 38-14 with Wednesday’s win.
Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors stretched their winning streak to 11 games to improve to 48-4 for the season with a comfortable 112-104 victory against the Phoenix Suns.
Once again Steph Curry top-scored for the reigning NBA Finals champions, chipping in with 26 points, just ahead of teammate Klay Thompson with 24 points.
The Memphis Grizzlies bounced back from the disappointment of losing star center Marc Gasol to a broken foot to dominate Brooklyn in a 109-90 victory.
The Grizzlies were left reeling on Tuesday after it was confirmed Gasol faces a long layoff—possibly the remainder of the season—after fracturing his right foot.
However they shrugged off that setback to ease past the Nets for a morale-boosting victory as they prepare for the All-Star Game season break.
“It was just a really good feeling because it has not been a fun 36 hours for us with the news about Marc,” coach Dave Joerger said.
“Yesterday was kind of shock. Today it kind of set in. So now we can go into the break, get some mental rest and some physical rest and have a plan of what we’re going to do.”
Grizzlies guard Tony Allen said the loss of Gasol had hit the side hard.
“He’s a former defensive player of the year, a franchise player. To see him go down is devastating,” he said.
*Boston Celtics 139, LA Clippers 134 (OT): Isaiah Thomas had 36 points with 11 assists, and Evan Turner netted half his 14 in a 9-2 run to close the game, sparking Celtics (32-23) over the Clippers for their fifth win in six games.
Chris Paul had 35 points and 13 assists while J.J. Redick netted 27 for the Clippers (35-18), who had won 12 of their previous 14 road games.
*Atlanta Hawks 113, Chicago Bulls 90: Germany’s Dennis Schroder 18 points and the visiting Hawks (31-24) used a decisive 38-25 third-quarter blitz to hand the short-handed Bulls their fourth straight loss.
Spaniard Pau Gasol had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Chicago (27-25), which was playing without injured All-Star Jimmy Butler (knee).
*Minnesota Timberwolves 117, Toronto Raptors 112: Karl-Anthony Towns had 35 points with 11 rebounds, Andrew Wiggins netted half his 26 in the final quarter, and the Timberwolves (17-37) stormed from 18 down to hand the visiting Raptors (35-17) just their second loss in the last 16 games.
DeMar DeRozan topped Toronto (35-17) with 35 points.
*New Orleans 100, Utah Jazz 96: Anthony Davis scored 19 points, including the go-ahead basket and triple in the final minute, as the Pelicans (20-32) snapped the visiting Jazz’ season-high seven-game success despite Derrick Favors’ 29-point effort.
*Denver Nuggets 103, Detroit Pistons 93: Reserve Will Barton scored 15 of his 20 points in the final quarter, and the visiting Nuggets (22-32) dropped the injury-depleted Pistons (27-27), who were without ailing starters Ersan Ilyasova Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
*Memphis Grizzlies 109, Brooklyn Nets 90: Mike Conley scored 20 points, Jeff Green added 12 of his 18 in the pivotal 39-18 third-quarter, and the visiting Grizzlies (31-22) blasted the Nets (14-40) in their first game since losing Spaniard Marc Gasol to a broken right foot.
*Sacramento Kings 114, Philadelphia 110: DeMarcus Cousins had 28 points with 12 rebounds, Darren Collison netted 25, including two game-free throws with 8.1 seconds left, as the visiting Kings (22-31) rallied from 17 down in the third quarter to beat the Sixers and stop a four-game slide.
Robert Covington scored a career-high 29 points for the league-worst Sixers (8-45).
*Charlotte Hornets 117, Indiana Pacers 95: Kemba Walker had 25 points, and the visiting Hornets (27-26) won their third in a row while handing Pacers (28-25) their worst loss of the season.
*Portland Trail Blazers 116, Houston Rockets 103: Damian Lillard had 33 points and nine assists, and the host Trail Blazers (27-27) trimmed the Rockets (27-28) despite a game-high 34 by James Harden.
Scuffle makes defeat worse for Suns
Phoenix: The Phoenix Suns’ season took another fractious turn on Wednesday when team mates Markieff Morris and Archie Goodwin got into a shoving match during the team’s loss to the Golden State Warriors.
A heated conversation turned physical between the two players during a first-quarter timeout as Morris stood over a seated Goodwin who then leapt up from the bench.
The huddled Phoenix bench quickly broke up the dust-up, but they could do little to halt their freefall.
The Suns (14-40) lost to the Warriors 112-104 for their ninth straight defeat as they sank further down the Western Conference.
Phoenix fired coach Jeff Hornacek last week and promoted assistant Earl Watson to interim head coach.
Wednesday’s incident is not the first internal conflict for Morris who was suspended two games in December for throwing a towel at Hornacek.
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