Bulls, Pau Gasol bid Kobe Bryant farewell, beat Lakers

Necks craned. Cameras flashed and phones glowed. Kids chanted and extended their hands for reciprocal contact.

Kobe Bryant made the 15th and final United Center appearance of his 20-year, eventual Hall of Famer career Sunday night, complete with book-ended standing ovations. Even Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson were among those clapping when Bryant checked out with 45.3 seconds left.

But the history the Bulls are most focused on is erasing the effects of their recent 5-14 stretch. They took a baby step toward doing so with a 126-115 victory over the hapless Lakers, their second straight victory.

Progress, like Bryant's assist totals, is measured in small amounts these days.

On one hand, the Bulls shot at least 55 percent from the field, 65 percent from 3-point range and 95 percent from the line for the first time in franchise history. But they also let a 19-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle to three and for the first time in six years allowed a 10th straight opponent to score 100 or more points.

"I'm encouraged with what we're doing offensively," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "The ball is moving so much better than it was earlier in the season. As far as the other end of the floor, we never had the toughness you need to pull away."

Bryant finished with 22 points and thrilled the pro-Kobe crowd when he sank four straight jumpers over Mike Dunleavy to start the second half.

"I didn't really get the sense that the crowd was behind me," Dunleavy deadpanned. "I was happy he's 39 and not 29. He would've probably been well on his way to 60 (points) back in the day."

Dunleavy hit double figures for the first time this season. E'Twaun Moore tied his career-high with 24 points, including seven in the fourth and 4-for-4 from 3-point range. Rose added 10 of his 24 points in the fourth, along with seven rebounds and six assists.

"He looked like the same old Derrick Rose," Bryant said.

Rose and Bryant shared a moment pregame in which Bryant posed for pictures with Rose's son. The star-struck quality to the night extended beyond fans to players.

"Like, c'mon now, for a little kid that's 3, being able to meet Kobe, it's surreal," Rose said. "Of course he doesn't know how big the moment is. But for him to have that in the archives is pretty cool."

Playing his first game in Chicago since Jan. 21, 2013, because of injuries, Bryant was introduced by former teammate and close friend Pau Gasol in a nice touch. Gasol spoke at the end of a taped video tribute. 

"To have him do that means so much to me," Bryant said. "This the last time I'm going to be facing him unless we play pickup ball in Barcelona. That's weird, man."

Said Gasol: "I feel honored that I have this type of relationship and earned his respect throughout the years. I don't like to claim the spotlight. But I was proud and honored to be a part of it."

Bryant said he believes the Bulls can make a deep playoff run if they defend better. That has been an issue Jimmy Butler has been hammering all season.

On one possession in the third quarter, Bryant spent half the 24-second shot clock talking to Butler in street clothes on the bench. He clearly enjoyed the night, including the repeated "Kobe! Kobe!" chants from the sellout crowd.

"It's an unbelievable feeling to have that kind of reaction," Bryant said. "It was a little strange at first because I'm so used to being booed. But I've enjoyed every minute of it.

"I'm at peace now, extremely at peace. I'm ready to move on."

kcjohnson@tribpub.com

Twitter @kcjhoop

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