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Kobe Bryant's last stand in Salt Lake City was in vain.
In a game that had long been decided, the Los Angeles Lakers legend made it his mission to cool down a player who was terrorizing his team the way Bryant had once done to his competition. Jazz guard Rodney Hood had gone for 30 first-half points, blistering the nets and knocking down eight of his nine looks from beyond the arc. And Bryant wanted to make sure the youngster didn't keep going.
So Bryant blanketed Hood, face-guarding the Jazz sharpshooter whenever they saw each other in the second half of a blowout. In the end, it suited the Jazz just fine. As Bryant's farewell tour made its last stop in Salt Lake City, the Utah Jazz looked unimpressed as they continued their playoff push, routing the Lakers 123-75 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
"Kobe stuck to me," Hood said with a grin afterward. "He gave up a layup rather than let me get the ball."
Hood went scoreless in the second half, never hoisting up another shot as Bryant crowded him on every possession. The Jazz, meanwhile, were content to run up the score, improving to 37-37 their first time at .500 since Feb. 23 and staying a full game ahead of the Rockets and the Mavericks in the playoff race.
The Jazz shot better than 51 percent from the floor and knocked down a franchise-record 17 3-pointers in their drubbing the most lopsided loss of Bryant's storied career.
Utah jumped out to a 17-2 run before Bryant hit a turnaround jumper, his first bucket of the night. And Hood made sure the Lakers never got close.
"When the first one went down, I felt like it was going to be a pretty good game," said Hood, who had been shooting just 21 percent from 3 over his previous six games before Monday.
He crossed over his defender and pulled up from deep. He hit a step-back triple. Then, with Bryant on him at the end of the first half, Hood ran the legend into a screen, pulled up and drained another bomb from distance causing the Jazz bench to erupt in celebration.
At halftime, Hood had hit on 11 of his 13 shots, good for 30 points. He barely trailed the Lakers' 37. That's when Bryant tried to make one last stand against a team he'd dealt so much heartbreak to over the years.
"Oh my god," Bryant said. "We had to do something. I'd rather not have to chase him all over the place like that; we had to do something."
Afterward, Hood would say he'd never been defended like that before. "Probably not even in high school," he chuckled. "It was just all out of fun. He was just competing."
Entering Monday night, the playoff-hunting Jazz stressed the importance of avoiding a letdown against a lesser team. The Lakers probably wouldn't have given them the chance if they had wanted to. L.A.'s defense, the worst in the NBA, helped the Jazz shoot nearly 52 percent from the floor and knock down a franchise-record 17 3-pointers. Point guard Shelvin Mack had 17 points to go with five assists and reserve forward Trevor Booker had 17 points and five rebounds off the bench.
The Lakers youngsters couldn't get the job done on either end. Rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell went 2-for-11 from the floor and second-year forward Julius Randle finished with just two points.
Bryant wasn't much help either. The legendary guard checked out of the game with 2:56 left in the third quarter to a standing ovation and a chant of "Kobe! Kobe!" that lingered in the arena for a long while. He had five points on 1-of-11 shooting and a plus/minus of a -43.
Back in a bedroom in Mississippi, there's a Kobe Bryant jersey with the No. 8 on it that Hood used to wear as a kid. But the Jazzman will be keeping the memories he's made playing against Byrant this season a little closer.
In the preseason, the future Hall of Famer gave the second-year guard a talking-to after he tried to show up Bryant in the exhibition. On Monday, the two were back to talking trash.
"He was just telling me congratulations on the season. I just told him he was the greatest of all time. A guy I've been looking up to since I was a little child," Hood said. "… Those are memories that I'll take forever. Going back to Hawaii. Tonight. Every single chance I get to play against him that will be something I remember until after I'm done playing ball."
Bryant's time is almost up. The Lakers have just eight games left in their season, including one more against the Jazz in the teams' season finale.
Hood, meanwhile, said he wasn't going to worry about missing out on his career high.
"I got a lot more chances to break my career high and do special things in the league," Hood said.
R Rodney Hood scores 30 points in the first half two shy of his career high before being held scoreless in the second half of a blowout win.
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