With heavy hearts, Celtics fall to Pelicans – Sentinel & Enterprise


NEW ORLEANS — They paid respect with the 24-second shot clock, something Kobe Bryant never had much use for.

New Orleans won the opening tap and Lonzo Ball slowly dribbled the ball, then held it, then started applauding as 24 seconds expired. The Celtics followed suit, with Kemba Walker holding the ball as Jaylen Brown mimed shooting a free throw.

“Well, to be honest, I stole his free-throw routine,” said Brown. “One, two, three, he spins it, double spin but, man, I’m at a loss for words, to be honest. But part of like why I picked up to play basketball was because of him.”

In this way the Celtics began a night devoid of the defensive pressure and offensive flow — not to mention their will to rebound — that was so apparent in Friday night’s win in Orlando. Instead, the Celtics fell into a 20-point hole by halftime and never quite made up the difference in their 123-108 loss to New Orleans. But like every other team in the league, getting started was more difficult this time around.

It’s rare, if ever, that a player admits to not feeling an urge to play, but this seemed to include all of the Celtics who played last night.

“Man, some of us are still hurting and it was difficult to play today,” said Gordon Hayward. “Mentally there was a lot of guys that were not themselves because of the news, and I don’t blame them. It’s very, very difficult.”

Marcus Smart, after initially declining to talk after the game, changed his mind out of a need to honor one of his earliest heroes.

READ  Pandemic postpones national Paralympics trials for ND teen - Beaumont Enterprise

“Yeah, I think it was hard to play for everybody. Just around the league it was,” he said. “We still can’t believe that it’s true. I think in the back of our minds we’re still wishing and hoping that it’s not. But it’s just tough. It’s tough for everybody out there and it was a tough night for us.”

Smart’s sense of loss is buoyed by the fact that, as Brad Stevens noted, Bryant was the Michael Jordan of the current NBA generation.

To get on the floor and attempt to guard him, as Smart did with relish, was a privilege. Smart in tribute before the game, posted a photo of exactly that — him bodying up to Bryant in the post.

“When he was playing, I guarded him and I just remember the first time guarding him, in my mind, I was just in shock that I had the opportunity to guard Kobe,” said Smart. “Just his presence was, I mean, you knew he was there. When he was on the floor, it didn’t matter how old he was, you were still in your shoes, on the back of your heels. It was just awesome. I’m still in shock. Words — I can’t even find them. My heart goes out to his family. This is hard. It’s tough for everybody.”

Like many of them, Smart coveted getting something from Bryant — any kind of gear from the Lakers star.

“Yeah man. It’s Kobe, one of the greatest players to ever play,” he said. “To be able to have something of his is definitely something that we’ll cherish. Everything he brought to the game will never be forgotten.”

READ  Twitter: Hack hit 130 accounts, company 'embarrassed' - Beaumont Enterprise

Brown’s greatest regret is that he came on the scene too late. Bryant retired the season before Brown was a rookie.

“He inspired so much and I’m just so sad that I never got to shake his hand,” said Brown. “That’s what kills me the most. I was looking forward to that day. I never got to meet Kobe Bryant, never got to play against him, but extremely inspired and honored to just be able to play and be able to celebrate his name.

“Yeah, it was hard to play. It was tough.”

Ultimately, players will now think back to the last time they saw Bryant. Smart’s last recollection was Bryant’s last game, and a 60-point performance against the Utah Jazz.

“I didn’t see him in person, but when I watched his last game and he went off,” said Smart. “That was the last time I saw him play. And that was one of the greatest moments as an athlete, as a fan, to see. Like I said, words can’t even explain it right now.”



READ SOURCE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here