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Los Angeles • For Kobe Bryant, a season of farewell culminated in a night of unbridled and unparalleled pomp and circumstance.
For the Utah Jazz, it was circumstance out of their control that had them saying goodbye to their playoff dream before Wednesday night's game even began.
There were 10 minutes before tipoff, putting up a barrage of meaningless jump shots, when the Houston Rockets' victory eliminated the Jazz from playoff contention on the season's final night-making their final defeat of the season ultimately meaningless, too.
Meaningless but agonizing.
Instead of a ticket to the playoffs, Utah faltered once more in a 101-96 loss, as Bryant put together one last performance that will live in NBA lore.
Fans, nearly all of them dressed in something with Bryant's name or likeness printed on it, showered Bryant with applause for every play he made. Bryant went out in style, scoring an astounding 60 points on 50 attempts in his career finale and leading the Lakers to a come-from-behind win over the Jazz at Staples Center.
"I'm in still in shock," said Jazz guard Rodney Hood. "Obviously you don't want it to be against you, but that's a hell of a way to go out."
It certainly wasn't the way the Jazz wanted to go out. But Bryant, who had handed the Jazz so many losses over his career, had one more left in him.
"He's patterned himself as a villain for so many years," Lakers coach Byron Scott had said earlier. "He's loved that villain role that he's played, going into arenas and breaking people's hearts."
To be fair, by the time Bryant stepped onto the court to the impassioned cheers of 19,000 fans, the Jazz's hearts were already mostly broken.
A loss Monday night at home to the Dallas Mavericks had put Utah's postseason dream on life support, putting control of their future in someone else's hands, and needing the Sacramento Kings to upset Houston to help the Jazz sneak into the playoffs.
In the locker room before the game, players acted as they normally would. Headphones on, watching a film breakdown, as if better understanding Roy Hibbert's offensive tendencies might help save their season. Meanwhile the Kings, with their six leading scorers all held out of action, were being slaughtered.
"We've looked," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said before the game. "I got an update. It's hard not to. But we can't affect that. We can't affect who plays, who doesn't play."
But as the Jazz's season came to an end, they had themselves to blame. As Hood said, "We were in control of that and we let it get away."
The Jazz fell two wins short of their first playoff berth since 2012. Looking back, surely the myriad injuries so many of them to to key players cost the Jazz at least two victories. But a young Jazz team still had its opportunities late in the season, squandering two precious chances for a win at home but falling to a Clippers team resting its entire starting lineup and shrinking in a head-to-head matchup with the Mavericks that almost certainly would have given Utah a playoff spot.
"You can point to a number of situations where we get a defensive rebound and we win the game," Snyder said. "That's got to stick in our craw, so to speak, and leave a taste in our mouth so that we can get better."
But win or lose, in or out, Snyder called the Jazz's season a success.
"This has been a very positive season," he said. "It may not feel like that right now because we lost the game to Dallas and obviously the game had huge implications. That said, the fact that this group was in that game in and of itself to me is an accomplishment."
A rebuilding process that started three seasons ago has seen Utah go from 25 wins to 38 wins to 40 wins this season.
"We've had a lot of big moments," Gordon Hayward said. "Forty wins is definitely a step up from two years ago when we had . I think we're trending the right way."
Even so, things ended the same way.
And Bryant's storybook ending didn't help.
"I feel like we had a really good year on a lot of levels," Snyder said after the loss. "It doesn't feel like that right now. That's normal. Hopefully we can step back and process it and feel good about some of the things we accomplished."
• Jazz rookie Trey Lyles scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to pace the Jazz.
• Kobe Bryant's scored 60 points for the sixth time in his career.