SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA (AP) — Still reeling from the loss of good friend and former NBA star Kobe Bryant, Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul returned to the basketball court for the first time since the tragedy because, he said, it was the right thing to do.
The Thunder didn’t need him much on a night in which they led from start to finish. But it was a therapeutic return for Paul.
“Probably the best thing (I) could have done is to get out there and play,” Paul said following Oklahoma City’’s 120-100 win over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night. “Kobe wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Luguentz Dort set season-highs with 23 points and five three-pointers, Dennis Schroder delivered another big game off the bench with 24 points and nine assists as the Thunder won for the sixth time in seven games. Danilo Gallinario had 19 points and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 17.
A moment of silence was held before for the game for the victims of Sunday’s helicopter crash that killed Bryant and his daughter Gianna and seven others. A framed Bryant 24 jersey was placed at center court as a spotlight shined down. Some fans broke into chants of “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!” after the buzzer sounded. Tributes to Bryant played on the video scoreboard throughout the game.
Paul, who had nine points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, was back on the court after not playing in the Thunder’s loss to Dallas on Monday for personal reasons. He played only 26 minutes against the Kings, his fewest since November 27.
Although Paul penned an emotional tribute to Bryant on social media later on Monday, the nine-time All-Star had not spoken publicly about the tragedy until Wednesday.
“You just feel for the families,” Paul said. “It’s a big loss for everybody.”
Dort had 12 points in the third quarter — more than he has had in any game this season — and helped the Thunder open a 20-point lead.