This has been a very positive season. It may not feel like that right now because we lost a game to Dallas and obviously the game had huge implications. The fact that this group was in that game in and of itself to me is an accomplishment and the fact that we were able to compete down the stretch to put ourselves in that game is a positive. – Quin Snyder
LOS ANGELES — The Utah Jazz didn’t make the playoffs, which, of course, is a disappointing development all things considered.
Their night got even worse after they found out that news.
Kobe Bryant punched them in the gut one last time — make that 60 last times — in an incredible 101-96 come-from-behind win for the Lakers.
Though Jazz faithful can boast about a 48-point win over the Los Angeles Lakers and mockingly bring up the four infamous airballs Kobe Bryant launched in the 2007 Western Conference Finals, the Black Mamba gave them even more reason to continue their love-to-hate relationship into his retirement.
The Jazz were the last team Bryant and the Lakers beat in his 20-year career.
Lakers fans who spent oodles of cash to buy tickets to this Kobepalooza event didn’t go home disappointed on this night, which included dozens of Bryant tributes from celebrities and famous athletes.
Bryant started off slowly, missing his first five shots. With fans loudly cheering every time he touched the ball, Bryant heated up and finished with 15 points in the first quarter.
Three things were consistent the rest of the way as Staples Center buzzed in a Kobemania fever.
Bryant shot a lot.
Bryant scored a lot.
And Lakers fans cheered a lot, including multiple "Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!" chants.
By the time this night and his Hall of Fame career finally ended, Bryant finished with 60 points on 22-of-50 shooting in 42 minutes. He even had the go-ahead jumper in the closing moments.
It wasn’t quite the 81 he had a decade ago against Toronto, but it felt like it.
Though it won't come as much solace to Jazz fans, Kobe did have one airball against Utah, completing a full career circle.
The Mamba mentality that resulted in an agonizing Jazz loss and a thrilling Lakers comeback victory is what Lakers coach Byron Scott believes the NBA will lack after No. 24's retirement.
"I think the biggest thing they’re going to miss is somebody that came with an attitude every single night to destroy you,” Scott said. “He’s the most competitive guy that’s been in this league in a long time and every opponent that played against him knew it. They hated him. The arenas he played in most of the time hated him, and I think he really loved and relished being the villain.
“He loved taking your hearts out as fans, as players as teams. He enjoyed that, and I think the league is going to miss that. I don’t see another guy in our league who is like that.”
The Jazz found out before tipoff that Houston demolished an embarrassment of a Sacramento Kings lineup, which was missing DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay and its three other top scorers.
That eliminated Utah from the playoffs. The Jazz (40-42) split the season series with Houston, but even a win wouldn't have helped Utah leapfrog the Rockets. Houston finished with a 41-41 mark and owned the tiebreaker thanks to a better record in the Western Conference.
That scenario provides a tough learning lesson — or “growth opportunity,” as Snyder said he prefers to call it — for this young Jazz team.
It’s simply too risky to be in a situation at the end of the season when some teams are resting players for various reasons to put yourself into a situation where you’re relying on another team for help.
“We haven’t controlled everything that we can control at the level that we needed to,” Snyder said. “Your margin for error every time that happens becomes smaller and smaller, and then you find yourself in position where you need help in order to achieve something.”
It’s why last Friday’s upset loss to a shorthanded Clippers team was so devastating.
It’s why Monday’s inept outside shooting in the home loss to Dallas is going to sting for a while, as Gordon Hayward put it.
It’s why losing to Brooklyn at home hurt, why not getting a late call when two Houston players clearly fouled Jeff Withey in a home loss to the Rockets is agonizing and why having the second-most losses by five points or fewer in the NBA is torturous to think about.
“That’s where we are,” Snyder continued. “We were 2-for-16 from 3 (Monday) and there was a lot of things that went into that game. We looked young in that moment.”
While Snyder would’ve loved to have made the playoffs in his second year — and two seasons after the Jazz struggled to 25 wins when they began this rebuild — Utah’s coach isn’t looking at this season as a disappointment.
“This has been a very positive season. It may not feel like that right now because we lost a game to Dallas and obviously the game had huge implications,” Snyder said. “The fact that this group was in that game in and of itself to me is an accomplishment and the fact that we were able to compete down the stretch to put ourselves in that game is a positive."
Hayward agrees with his coach.
“I think just based off the experiences we’ve all gained individually and collectively as a team, we’ve been in a lot of big moments,” Hayward said. “Forty wins is definitely a step up from two years ago when we had 20-whatever, so I think we’re trending in the right way.”
JAZZ NOTES: Utah was without Derrick Favors (sore right knee), Rudy Gobert (sprained right ankle) and Alec Burks (sore left knee) for the season finale. … Five Jazz players scored in double figures: Trey Lyles (18 points), Gordon Hayward (17 points), Shelvin Mack and Joe Ingles (12 points) and Jeff Withey (10). ... The Jazz will hold their end-of-the-season locker cleanout interviews on Thursday.