The Utah Jazz were on the receiving end of what will forever be remembered as the greatest final game for a player in NBA history, with 37-year-old Kobe Bryant dropping 60 points in front of a raucous crowd at Staples Center on April 13.
From an outsider's perspective, it appeared the Jazz were willing to give Bryant more leeway to put on a show for the fans, knowing their chances at a playoff berth had gone down the drain. Nonetheless, Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, who had the unenviable task of defending "The Black Mamba," is adamant that his team was going for the victory.
"We were trying to win, and for a while there we were," Hayward wrote in a blog post on his website. "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."
Bryant scored 23 points in the final 12 minutes, helping Los Angeles overcome a 15-point deficit to earn a 101-96 come-from-behind win.
"It was like being a part of a showcase, or being in a video game," Hayward added. "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.
"It's something I don't ever want to have to defend again - a situation where everybody on the other team is working to get shots for one guy. It was definitely a fairy-tale ending for Kobe Bryant and one the sports world will remember forever. Everyone kind of wanted it to be Kobe's night. Besides us. But that's how it goes sometimes."
It's clear the competitor in Hayward would have liked Bryant's farewell to end differently for his squad. However, he appreciates the fact that he was able to go toe-to-toe with a legend of the hardwood, which is something he'll hold near and dear for the rest of his life.
"Playing against Kobe is something 'll never forget," he wrote. "I can remember my rookie year, being kind of star-struck watching him play. But when you're out there competing against him, he is just the guy that you're going against and trying to beat. And you better give it everything you have. He was the ultimate competitor and I will always remember playing against him. It's something I'll tell my kids about."
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