About an hour before tipoff of the Raptors-Spurs game at San Antonio’s AT&T Center, news broke that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash. The Raptors telecast was initially unsure if the game was going to actually commence, as the media was closed off from the locker room to allow the players to be with their own teammates.
However, a little later than usual, the Raptors and Spurs players emerged from the tunnel and began their pregame rituals while also talking with each other and showing support for one another.
The mood was somber to say the least. Even with a lot riding on the game in terms of playoff seeding for both squads, the game was secondary to the passing of Kobe. Prior to the tip, the arena held a moment of silence for Bryant.
The remembrances didn’t stop there. After the Raptors won the tipoff, Fred VanVleet dribbled the ball just passed half court and let the 24 clock expire to honor Kobe. Then, Dejounte Murray from the San Antonio Spurs crossed half court and did the same while crowd stood and clapped their hands. After a momentary clock malfunction, the game officially began with 11:12 left in the first quarter.
Remarkable moment to start the Raptors-Spurs game. pic.twitter.com/thmt9ZU1Ra— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) January 26, 2020
During the first, Pascal Siakam wasted no time paying another homage to Kobe Bryant — by scoring a whole bunch of points. 25, to be exact, the most points in a quarter in Raptors history, and the Raptors led 37-21 at the end of the first. Even with the new record, though, Siakam and teammates didn’t showboat or gloat or celebrate — the mood in the arena remained somber. By the start of the second, Siakam even looked a bit dejected while sitting on the bench.
Beyond Siakam, the quarter was driven by crisp passes and solid chemistry between teammates. They had 11 assists on 13 made field goals at the end of the first.
Of course, the Spurs wouldn’t go down with a fight, as the Raptors should remember as their last loss came at the hands of the Spurs, who trailed by double-digits in that game as well. Over the course of the second quarter, the Spurs began to chip away at the lead.
Nearing the halfway mark in the second, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson planted his right foot awkwardly on Marco Belinelli’s foot and twisted his ankle severely as he fell to the floor. He was helped off the floor by Stanley Johnson and Malcolm Miller, and was soon ruled out for the rest of the game.
The Spurs picked up their slow start and mounted a small comeback before the end of the half, which had the Raptors leading 63-51. Siakam had 30 points, four rebounds, and two assists and OG Anunoby also chipped in 10 points.
Yet, the most telling aspect of the game was a quick technical foul on DeMar DeRozan after a foul committed against him. DeRozan, who idolized Kobe Bryant, was clearly wearing his emotions on his sleeve and was seen being consoled by Gregg Popovich prior to the game.
This hit me hard. Pop consoling DeMar DeRozan before the game tonight. pic.twitter.com/rd9NVHTC4Y— Evan Closky (@EvanClosky) January 26, 2020
Yet the Spurs remained competitive.
To start the second half, the Spurs continued their climb and cut the lead to seven points with 7:31 remaining, forcing Toronto to call a timeout. Yet, after the timeout, the Spurs continued their strong play and eventually tied the ballgame at 73. On the subsequent play, though, the Raptors seized an offensive rebound and Lowry drilled a three-pointer to retake the lead.
The Spurs kept on fighting, however, and eventually took the lead themselves early on in the fourth quarter. Eventually, they had pushed the lead to eight before VanVleet had a smooth pass to Gasol in the paint who finished it with a dunk despite a foul.
From there, Gasol singlehandedly brought the Raptors all the back by way of a couple of shots from the line and a three-pointer, tying the game at 97 with just under eight minutes to play. The Raptors then built a six-point lead, but it was quickly swallowed; DeRozan goaded the Raptors into a few fouls and then scored a short J with a minute to play to tie it at 105.
On the ensuing play, Lowry walked the ball up the floor then passed to Siakam who drove into the lane and kicked it out to an open Fred VanVleet, who buried a three-pointer to take a 108-105 lead.
After Lonnie Walker IV went 1-for-2 at the line, Siakam again drove to the rim and kicked out to VanVleet — but this time, VanVleet was off the mark. But — guess who? — Kyle Lowry didn’t give up on the play, fought for the rebound, and knocked it out of bounds off of Dejounte Murray. The Spurs then had to foul to regain possession, but VanVleet calmly hit both free throws to take a four-point lead and seal the 110-106 win.
Pascal Siakam finished the game with 35 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. Lowry and VanVleet chipped in 16 and 13, respectively. The Spurs, meanwhile, had seven players score in double-figures, but it ended up not being enough to overcome the Raptors.
Despite the outcome, however, the tragic news of Kobe Bryant’s death overshadowed the basketball. With him and the other deaths in the crash, it was a reminder of how precious and fickle life can be. Kobe was an intense competitor and balletic player with moves that were emulated among anyone who picked up a basketball. Even throwing away a crumpled up piece of paper in the back of a classroom was suddenly an event of its own as people across the world emphatically yelled “KOBE!” to mimic the “Black Mamba.”
In the years since he retired, he had been an active father and even an Oscar winner. Perhaps what is so incredibly heartbreaking is trying to imagine his family going on without him, especially since the finally had more time sans basketball. Truly, the loss is immensely devastating to his family and close friends.
Of course, there will be a time and place to discuss his complicated legacy and arc — both on and off the court — but now is not that time. Instead, I can only imagine that Kobe would want us to hug somebody close and grieve accordingly, but to continue onward with the games and season ahead. As a grueling competitor, that’s exactly how he would’ve wanted it.
Rest easy, Kobe Bryant.