It was Kobe's last game. The Suns arena was full - a rare sellout in this lost season - and fans for screaming on every made shot.
Unfortunately, they were screaming for the Lakers and especially Kobe Bryant, who played his last game in Phoenix as he's set to retire at the end of the season. Bryant scored 17 points.
"It was a lot of fun just to have the building look like that," point guard Brandon Knight said of the arena with nary an empty seat in the house. "Definitely appreciate Kobe for all he's done for the game and paving the way for us younger guys...the fans, they know what he did for the game as well so that's why they're here in full force sending him out with a great goodbye. And hopefully for ourselves and for the Suns, we can get the arena rocking like that next year every game."
Potentially the loudest cheer of the season - even louder than when an opponent misses consecutive free throws to give the fans free fast food vouchers - came when Kobe Bryant made his first shot of the game. And the fans stayed engaged all night long. But as Knight says, maybe next year the fans can be cheering for good Suns plays in the same way.
Kobe on Armani
The best part of the night, of course, was how Kobe talked of Devin Booker. They met on the court after the final buzzer for a few moments, and then for another ten minutes in the locker room. Booker emerged with some signed Kobe shoes and memories he will never forget.
"I think he's fantastic," Kobe said of Booker. "I think he has the right attitude. He has the right competitive spirit. I think his footwork is extremely sound, his fundamentals are extremely sound and now it's just about him figuring out exactly what his game is and then he can go to that every single night and then make counters off of it, but he has the skills."
Here's another great Booker stat, courtesy of basketball-reference.com research done the Suns:
* Devin Booker scored 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting, to go along with seven assists. With his third game with 27+ points and 5+ assists, Booker now has more such games than the rest of the 2015 NBA Draft class combined as Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns and Denver's Emmanuel Mudiay, with one such game apiece, are the only other rookies to post a game with 27+ points and 5+ assists this season.
With three games with 27+ points and 5+ assists as a teenager, Booker joins LeBron James (22), Carmelo Anthony (3) and Stephon Marbury (3) as the only teens in NBA history to do so at least three times (Basketball-Reference).
Kobe and Booker even had a chuckle to kick off the game.
"I remember me catching the ball and I had it in kind of the short post," Booker said. "And I missed the shot but I used one of his moves against him and that's the first thing he said against me. ‘You're trying to use my own move against me?" He said that right at the end of the game, so it was fun."
Kobe joked about it too.
"He went straight to my move the first time he caught it," Kobe said. "‘You don't have to beat me on my move man!' But it was great to see, it was absolutely great to see because I remember I did the same thing with MJ."
Booker had 28 points on the night on 12-22 shooting, leading all scorers young and old. Booker also threw 7 assists, tied for game-high with teammate Knight.
"He didn't get rattled in the moment," coach Watson said of Booker. "The atmosphere was unique, and he just did what he's used to doing, he stayed within his game."
Here's all his comments:
Brandon Knight, still hobbling on a sore groin, put up a great all-around line for the second game in a row: 25 points on 9-19 shooting, 8 rebounds and 7 assists against only 2 turnovers.
The Suns won the game easily, leading for the last 2+ quarters as the Phoenix back court dramatically outplayed the Lakers back court while Kobe spent most of the night at small forward opposite P.J. Tucker. Kobe and Tucker shared hug at the final buzzer.
Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic talked after the game.
With Tyson Chandler out, Leuer had a career high 14 rebounds along with 22 points in the Suns win.
Mirza sets Suns record
Mirza made 5 of 6 threes, and 6 of 8 shots overall, to break out of a short shooting slump.
"The past three games I really couldn't get a clean look," Teletovic said. "And tonight, shooters always do that, and try to break out and shoot yourself out of a couple misses. But I think the guys moved the ball really well. We shared the ball, and once the ball moved I think this team is very difficult to guard."
With his five threes, Mirza Teletovic set a new Suns franchise record for threes off the bench (153), passing Danny Ainge (150) set in 1993.
Season high assists
The Suns had a season high 31 assists on 47 made baskets, good for 50% shooting (46% on threes) against a Lakers teams that's just riding out the Kobe wave and looking toward summer vacation.
Not summer time yet
Brandon Knight says the Suns aren't done trying to win games from here on out.
"When we were losing a lot of games, that's something we weren't doing. It's a process and we're getting better by step by step. We're not perfect but we're trying to work toward being that team we know we can be and it doesn't start next year, it doesn't start this summer, it starts right now and that's what we're trying to do."
The Phoenix Suns are now 6-7 in their last 13 games, but don't get too worked up over this. We've said here for weeks now that the Suns almost certainly can't drop below 4th in the pre-lottery standings and because of the Nets difficult schedule would have had a hard time staying at 3rd worst.
Kobe did not mince words over his hatred for the Nash-led Suns teams. You know he only means the old Suns teams because he talks of them in past tense.
"I did!" Kobe said of hating the Suns. "There's no misunderstanding, there's no wiggle room there. I hated them, absolutely! They stopped me from getting a championship...twice. Damn right, I hated them: Raja, Steve, all of those good guys.
"No question, but at the same time I loved them because they brought the best out of me and my teammates, so the relationship is a love-hate relationship because I hated the fact that they were that good. They kept us from winning, but at the same time, I loved how good they were and I knew we had to be better. It's a love-hate relationship."
Kobe can say that now, with all smiles. He's on his victory tour - the longest tour of any retiring players, it seems, in the history of sport. We can only hope that guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James and guys like that get a whole season victory tour like Kobe then it's their time to fade out.