SAN ANTONIO — The Toronto Raptors and the San Antonio Spurs collaborated on a touching tribute to Kobe Bryant at the beginning of their game Sunday, with each team dribbling out the 24-second shot clock in remembrance of the No. 24 worn by the retired NBA great, who died in a helicopter crash at age 41.
Pascal Siakam scored 35 points to lead the Raptors past the Spurs 110-106 on a day when many players’ thoughts were elsewhere.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among the nine people killed when the helicopter they were riding on crashed in Calabasas, California. The teams found out about Bryant’s death about an hour before the afternoon tipoff.
The Spurs had many battles with Bryant and the Lakers, especially in the post-season. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has spoken openly about his love for and respect of Bryant, and that admiration was apparent when the team played a tribute video during the Lakers legend’s final appearance in San Antonio.
“An assassin in the best sense of that word,” Spurs legend David Robinson said. “Someone you knew was going to get the job done. You felt like it was almost inevitable if you’re playing against him. You cannot let him get that shot. Just the work ethic and the intensity, everything you bring to a game, everything that elevates this game to what we (want, he had).”
San Antonio held a moment of silence before the game. Spurs assistant coaches Becky Hammon and Tim Duncan and guard Lonnie Walker IV were visibly upset. Hammon and Walker wiped away tears and Duncan had his hands over his face.
Then came the memorable in-game tribute.
The teams did not contest the opening tipoff. Instead, Toronto point guard Fred VanVleet held onto the ball for 24 seconds, incurring a shot-clock violation. San Antonio point guard Dejounte Murray did the same as the crowd gave a standing ovation and chanted, “Kobe! Kobe!”
Kyle Lowry scored 16 points for Toronto, who won its seventh straight game.
DeMar DeRozan and Derrick White led San Antonio with 14 points each.
Popovich was not his usual animated self on the sidelines as the the Raptors raced to a 29-12 lead. But when Walker missed a defensive assignment on one of Siakam’s five 3-pointers. Popovich pulled Walker immediately from the game, had the second-year guard sit by him as he scolded him and then immediately reinserted him into the lineup.
The Spurs also returned to life, outscoring the Raptors 34-23 in the third quarter after trailing by as many as 19 points in the first half. Dejounte Murray’s 3-pointer tied the game at 73 with 4:53 remaining in the third.
Marc Gasol scored eight straight points, helping Toronto tie the game at 97 on its way to victory.
Robinson said one of the things that made Bryant so special was his ability to connect with fans around the world.
“He had an appeal worldwide,” Robinson said. “He was a very international player. Spoke (different) languages, played all over the world. I think he was very relatable. Obviously, he elevated the game. I come from the Magic (Johnson) and Larry Bird era, where it began to get to be an international game and Kobe was kind of the next link in that chain and did an unbelievable job.”
Bryant spoke Spanish and Italian after spending part of his youth in Europe while his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, played pro basketball in Italy. Bryant used that proficiency to his advantage on the court, too, speaking in Spanish to trash-talk then Spurs rookie Manu Ginobili during his first game against the Lakers.
Raptors: Toronto forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was assisted off the court and did not return after spraining his right ankle with 8:02 remaining in the third quarter.
Spurs: DeRozan was limited to 14 points on 2-for-7 shooting after scoring 20-plus points in 16 of his previous 17 games.
Raptors: Host Atlanta on Tuesday night.
Spurs: At Chicago on Monday night.