The Los Angeles Lakers 2020 NBA championship run was special.
With the late Laker legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna present in the team's heart and soul, Los Angeles had more motivation than ever before to cap off an unparalleled season with the franchise's league record-tying 17th title.
While some tributes were more intentional than others, there were a number of moments where Kobe's signature 'Mamba Mentality' was on display during the Lakers playoff push. Take a look at eight of the most significant 'Mamba Moments'.
Payback on 'Mamba Day'
The Lakers first game back after the tragic passing of Bryant came against the Portland Trail Blazers on Kobe's memorial night at the STAPLES Center. In a way that Bryant would have loved to do so himself, Blazers superstar Damian Lillard stunned the Lakers with a 48-point explosion to steal a win from the home team.
Fast forward over seven months later to 'Mamba Day' - Aug. 24, or 8/24, the day after Kobe's birthday - and the Lakers had an opportunity for redemption, facing off against Portland for Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs. They let the Blazers get away with a win on Kobe's first tribute day, they weren't going to let it happen again.
Donning their 'Black Mamba' uniforms in honour of Bryant, Los Angeles routed Portland by 20 points to the tune of their third-largest victory of the postseason. They had an opportunity, but came up just short, of paying homage to Kobe's signature 81-point performance by scoring 80 points in the first half - the franchise's most points in one half of a playoff game since 1987.
In the first quarter, the Lakers held a 24-8 lead for nearly half a minute. After the game, James, who went off for a double-double of 30 points and 10 assists, acknowledged that he felt Bryant was there with the team during that game.
"I did notice that we were up 24-8 because I'm always trying to figure out what's going on in the course of the game," James stated postgame. "I'm always looking, if we're up, if we're down, what's the team fouls and all of that nature, and when I looked up there and saw 24-8, I was like, 'OK. This is ... he's here in the building.'"
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope chases a Kobe record
"I would go 0-for-30 (from the field) before I would go 0-for-9. 0-for-9 means you beat yourself, you psyched yourself out of the game. … The only reason is because you've just now lost confidence in yourself."
A quote from Kobe himself.
In Caldwell-Pope's first game of the playoffs, he went 0-for-9 from the field with just one point. The Lakers fell to the Blazers and the NBA world began to write them off with everyone screaming about a first-round upset. As they did all season, critics came down hard on Caldwell-Pope whenever things didn't go in Los Angeles favour. It seemed like he was the target of all keyboard warrior's jokes and he used that as fuel to put together an awesome playoff run in helping his team win the championship.
After that first playoff game, KCP would shoot a strong 39.5% from 3-point range for the remainder of the postseason. In doing so, he buried 45 3-pointers, coming just two shy of a Lakers' franchise record for 3s in a single postseason held by ... Kobe Bryant with 47.
And not for nothing: he did it all while wearing Kobe's signature sneakers, too.
Anthony Davis yells "KOBE!" after game-winner
We've all been there before. Well... sort of. Whether it's shooting an actual basketball in your driveway or shooting a crumpled up ball into a trash can, we've all yelled 'Kobe!' as you let it fly.
Davis did just that, except, the stage was slightly bigger than the aforementioned circumstances.
In Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, leading the series 1-0, AD had his signature moment in his first season as a Laker, burying a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.
ANTHONY DAVIS. FOR THE WIN.- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 21, 2020
(📺: TNT) pic.twitter.com/qolqy9DHMY
"To me, AD coming off, just flying to the wing like that, catch-and-shoot with the biggest game on the line of our season, nothing but net, it's a Mamba shot," head coach Frank Vogel stated postgame.
In a quieter gym then usual, it was apparent that Davis yelled "Kobe!" after he hit the shot. When asked about it after the game, he confirmed that notion.
Rajon Rondo doesn't react to Davis' game-winner
On that very same play, there was a different type of 'Mamba Mentality' being channeled.
Veteran guard Rajon Rondo had sparked the play in the first place: per ESPN's Dave McMenamin, Rondo told Davis it was time to get Nikola Jokic back after Jokic had just scored the go-ahead bucket on AD on the previous possession. Rondo also essentially checked himself into the game to make the game-winning pass, as told by Frank Vogel in his postgame presser.
That type of energy is one that would make Bryant proud, but that's not where the 'Mamba Mentality' comes in.
Watch Rondo after the game-winner:
Favorite part of the game winner:- Dunk Bait (@DunkBait) September 21, 2020
Watch Rondo. Everyone goes to celebrate and Rondo just casually walks towards the Nuggets players. pic.twitter.com/qxfqrpfHBB
Hardly a reaction. In his mind, that's just a Game 2 win. The team still has two more wins to reach The Finals; what is there to celebrate? A very Kobe-esque moment all-around.
Dwight Howard says 'The job is not finished'
When Bryant's Lakers took a 2-0 series lead in the 2009 NBA Finals against Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic, he had an iconic postgame press conference.
"What's there to be happy about? Job's not finished," Bryant said. "Job finished? I don't think so."
Los Angeles would go on to win the 2009 NBA Finals, and that moment appeared to have stuck with Howard.
When the Lakers took a 3-1 lead over the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, a reporter asked Howard what he believed the team mentality is heading into Game 5. His response will sound familiar.
Reporter - "What's the team mentality heading into Game 5?- ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) September 25, 2020
Dwight Howard, quoting Kobe - "It's simple. Job's not finished."
(via @TomerAzarly) pic.twitter.com/n4wxN1uiTh
Like Bryant's Los Angeles team in 2009, Howard's Lakers squad would go on to win the 2020 NBA Finals. Incredible how things come full circle sometimes.
LeBron James shuts down Denver Nuggets comeback hopes
The Nuggets were a feel-good story of the 2020 NBA Playoffs. Trailing 3-1 in both the first and second round, Denver was able to become the first team in NBA history to pull off consecutive 3-1 comebacks in defeating the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers, respectively.
When the Lakers took a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals, the jokes of "the Nuggets have them right where they want them" started to brew.
Los Angeles controlled the majority of the potential closeout Game 5, but Denver came to life late in the contest. Trailing by as many as 16 points, the Nuggets cut the Lakers lead to two points early in the fourth quarter as the "comeback kids" began to gain some momentum.
In a manner that Kobe would have loved, LeBron ripped Denver's hearts out by exploding for 16 points in the fourth quarter, knocking down big shot after big shot to put an end to the Nuggets season.
👑 @KingJames takes over for 9 straight points down the stretch ‼️@Lakers advance to the #NBAFinals presented by YouTube TV! #LakeShow pic.twitter.com/OuKDE5VFnn- NBA (@NBA) September 27, 2020
In a similar fashion to the Bryant and Howard quote above, James kept it simple in the postgame presser, "For me personally the job is not done."
The Kobe finger sleeve
Several players on the Lakers made the small tribute to Kobe through his trademark finger sleeve.
LeBron was one of them, as seen in the post above. Whereas Kyle Kuzma was another, taking this picture of the Larry O'Brien with the "24" finger sleeve on the base after Los Angeles won the title.
24 pic.twitter.com/Ik5oE3mGDR- kuz (@kylekuzma) October 12, 2020
LeBron fulfills a promise
Last, but certainly not least, LeBron upheld his end of a promise he made to Kobe in his heartfelt Instagram post following the late legend's passing.
I'm Not Ready but here I go. Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had! I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn't think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we'd have. WTF!! I'm heartbroken and devastated my brother!! 😢😢😢😢💔. Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I'll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation💜💛 and it's my responsibility to put this shit on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here! There's so much more I want to say but just can't right now because I can't get through it! Until we meet again my brother!! #Mamba4Life❤️🙏🏾 #Gigi4Life❤️🙏🏾
"I promise you I'll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation and it's my responsibility to put this s-- on my back and keep it going!!" And James did exactly that.
It was another remarkable postseason run for LeBron, capped off by averaging 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists per game in The Finals en route to his fourth NBA title and fourth Finals MVP.
"We got as close as you possibly can be, when that moment happened," James stated following the Lakers championship-clinching Game 6 win. "It brought the whole basketball world close as well, but when you're internal and it hits home, it just means that much more and we locked in from that very moment and said, 'This is bigger than us.'"
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