Entering Tuesday's contest, the Sixers were 0-18, losers of 28 straight going back to last season when they beat the Denver Nuggets on March 25. They’re an intentional abomination, yet in Bryant’s final game in the city that helped mold him into a generational prodigy, they brought the Lakers to their knees.
In a month that's already provided some truly brutal moments, this specific game encapsulates what the Lakers’ season has become: a heartbreaking spectacle. It’s awful.
Come watch a selfish legend fire up shots with no regard for context or sense, at the detriment of his younger teammates’ development. Come see lineup combinations that lack rationale—a paralyzed offense mixed with half-hearted effort on the other end.
For Bryant, the return home began as most fairy tales end. He nailed three of his first four shots, tallying L.A.’s first nine points with deep rainbows that hinted toward a potentially magical evening. Then he got a little greedy:
Kobe has lost his mind and it's awesome pic.twitter.com/G380fQrdQY— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) December 2, 2015
Bryant went 2-of-16 over the last three quarters, finishing with 20 points in just under 32 total minutes. He went 7-of-26 from the floor and 4-of-17 from behind the three-point line. (According to SportVU, Bryant missed nine of his 10 shots that were contested.)
Lakers head coach Byron Scott thinks the team's oldest player may have gone overboard, too. Here's what he said after the game, per ESPN's Baxter Holmes:
Got to get some better shots than that, but other than that, just got to keep playing. I do trust that he’ll get to the point where he’ll make them on a much more consistent basis, but it has just not happened yet. ...
... He had about five or six that were real good looks, a couple that were real wide open, where he pump-faked, got the guy open. We moved the ball, got it to him, but there were some that weren’t good shots, and I think he would agree with that.
There were two assists, three turnovers and the worst individual plus/minus (minus-21) in the game. For what it's worth, Bryant’s assignment, Robert Covington, needed just 16 shots to score his game-high 23 points.
And then there was the team's defense.
The Lakers allowed 53 second-half points to the league's worst offense and one of the most feeble attacks in NBA history. The normally erratic Sixers sliced through purple and gold with unprecedentedly precise pick-and-rolls. L.A.’s defenders left three-point shooters alone—the Sixers sunk 50.0 percent of their uncontested field-goal attempts, per SportVU—and only made backside rotations when they felt like doing so.
This clip comes a split second after Jahlil Okafor slips a screen to roll toward the paint. Jordan Clarkson dives down to cover for Roy Hibbert but bails midway through his closeout.
In the clip below, D’Angelo Russell thinks someone will cover Isaiah Canaan as he doubles Okafor in the corner, but no Laker obliges.
All in all, the night was a new level of depression.
It's been a steady drop since the 2012-13 season, when the Lakers started their fall from optimistic title contention to the dungeon in which they dwell today. Dwight Howard's disastrous departure was the beginning of the end for the Bryant era.
Their inability to re-sign Howard, coupled with the costly addition of Steve Nash—whose deteriorating body was, in hindsight, hardly worth the draft picks L.A. forfeited—and the decision to sign Bryant to a cap-crippling multiyear deal, still looms over this current Lakers mess. The effect of those personnel moves was what took the court Tuesday night, and it's not pretty.
Here's Yahoo NBA writer Michael Lee with more on how tough things are, and will continue to be:
He has told himself he would appreciate the beauty in this flawed circumstance, even if that means accepting that a sixth championship with the Lakers is out of the question and a third straight lottery pick is headed to Los Angeles. That is, unless the top-three protected selection winds up in Philadelphia. With the Lakers at or approaching their nadir, as one of, if not the best to ever wear purple and gold leads the way, that means some unusual embarrassment is sure to follow.
Not even two days into December, this is undoubtedly shaping up to be one of the worst seasons in Lakers history. It's already filled with ugly memories, as one would expect from a team that’s 2-15. They’ve allowed over 110 points five times and kept their opponent under 100 on just four occasions.
But Tuesday night was a unique 48-minute-long brain fart. They dribbled the ball out of bounds, fouled spot-up shooters in the corner and even failed to box out at the free-throw line. It’s quite clear that an organization that prides itself on winning has momentarily pumped the brakes on that as the sole nightly objective.
Bryant will soon be replaced by whatever talent the Lakers sign with their gobs of cap space this summer, and if they finish with the worst record in basketball, another top-three draft pick will likely join them.
For now, they're cratered at the NBA's ocean floor. And there's nothing Bryant can do about it.