Utah swingman Gordon Hayward moonlights as an above-average blogger, and recently wrote about going up against Kobe Bryant in his remarkable final game.
Hayward and his Jazz teammates were “shocked” by The Black Mamba’s 60-point explosion.
Utah had nothing to play for in the regular season finale, but Hayward says they still tried hard to win:
I think all of us knew that the season finale in Los Angeles—against the Lakers—was going to be pretty crazy. Kobe Bryant is one of the best players to ever play this game and he is loved by fans across the country. Any time he played on the road this season, it was crazy. We saw that in Utah. But this was different. This was the last game of his career, and it was at home. You knew that there were going to be a lot of people, and the fans really, really showed up. […] The Rockets were already up by 30 when we were on the bus going to the game. So we knew we probably weren’t going to the playoffs, and that the game in LA was just going to be an experience for all of us. Quite frankly, that’s kind of what it was. It was something we will definitely all remember as players, and probably something we won’t ever be a part of again.
I didn’t really get much of a chance to talk to Kobe before the game—we just exchanged a few words, nothing big. There were probably at least 50 cameras around him. And when the game started, the atmosphere was different from anything I’ve ever experienced. Everyone in the arena was excited whenever he touched the ball. And every time Kobe got it, they wanted him to shoot it, and they were booing us for even trying to defend him. […] We were trying to win, and for a while there we were. But at the end of the game, in the closing minutes, everything that transpired kind of shocked us, to be honest. We were up double digits for most of the second half, and we led by 10 with about three minutes to go. So when Kobe started hitting shots and the game started to get close, a lot of us were in shock.
It was like being a part of a showcase, or being in a video game. There wasn’t really much normality about it. A guy scored 60 points and took 50 shots. There was something different as far as his aggressiveness. I think every time he touched it, you knew he was going to try to shoot it, or try to score, or try to get something going. He’s always an aggressive player, but that night, he was ultra-aggressive and tried to score on every single possession. […] That’s harder to defend than you might think, when you’re constantly getting screened. If he’s got the ball, it’s going to be a ball screen. If he doesn’t have the ball, it’s going to be a pin-down or some other screen to get him the ball. I thought for the most part, we played pretty tough defense. There were a bunch of possessions where we forced him into tough shots. But he’s Kobe Bryant.