OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kobe Bryant’s death fully registered with Luka Doncic in the midst of a game.
Doncic had 29 points and 11 rebounds, and the Dallas Mavericks beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 107-97 on Monday a night after Bryant, one of the NBA’s all-time greats, was involved in a fatal helicopter crash.
Doncic had been thinking about it all — the All-Star had messages remembering those involved in the accident on his shoes. Still, a wave of emotion hit suddenly and unexpectedly.
“I broke down after the first quarter,” he said. “That was when it really hit me. It was really hard to explain.”
When the game started following a moment of silence, the Mavericks took an eight-second violation in honour of the number Bryant wore to start his NBA career. The Thunder then took a 24-second shot clock violation in honour of the number Bryant wore later. After the two violations, the scoreboard clock read 11:24, and the 24-second clock below it had been reset to show 24 seconds. The crowd chanted “Kobe! Kobe!” as the clock counted down.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle tried his best to get his players to focus on playing basketball.
“This was a tough, emotional game,” he said. “It was like that for both teams, but I’m proud of our guys for keeping it together and getting through it.”
Dallas controlled most of the game. The Mavericks led 59-47 at halftime and pushed the lead to 70-54 before the Thunder went on an 11-0 run. Dallas regained control and led 88-77 at the end of the third quarter. The Mavericks led by at least 10 points the entire fourth quarter.
Tim Hardaway Jr scored 15 points and Kristaps Porzingis added 14 points and 10 rebounds for Dallas.
Dennis Schroder scored 21 points for the Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 16 points but missed 15 of his 20 shots.
After the game, Bryant’s death brought a heavy dose of perspective to the locker rooms.
“For it to happen to someone like him — a role model, a father, a husband and a living legend — it is heartbreaking and heartwrenching,” Hardaway said.