LOS ANGELES: LeBron James spoiled Kobe Bryant’s Cleveland finale on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) 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.
Warriors roll on
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.