LOS ANGELES • LeBron James won his final encounter with Kobe Bryant as the Cleveland Cavaliers eased past the Los Angeles Lakers 120-108 on Thursday in the last regular-season meeting between the two National Basketball Association icons.
James finished with 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds as the Cavaliers wrapped up their fifth win in six games to improve to 46-18 and remain 21/2 games ahead of the Toronto Raptors for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
He also tied Kevin Johnson for 19th on the NBA's all-time assists list with 6,711.
Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers with 26 points in what was ultimately a comfortable win at the Staples Centre.
Bryant, who is retiring from the NBA at the end of the season, left the court to a standing ovation towards the end of the fourth quarter with chants of "Kobe, Kobe" echoing around the venue.
The 37-year-old took some satisfaction from an impressive individual display which saw him score 26 points off 11-of-16 shooting.
WOULDN'T MISS IT FOR THE WORLD
I knew he wasn't taking this game off for sure and I knew I wasn't.
LEBRON JAMES, on his final duel with Kobe Bryant.
I enjoy the physicality of it. Playing against him, it's fun because of his size.
KOBE BRYANT, on his past encounters with LeBron James.
The Lakers' all-time leading scorer enjoyed some flashy moments. He froze James with a wicked pump fake with 5min 15sec left in the first quarter, sending the crowd into raptures. Even the 2.03m, 113kg James, himself a competitor with few who could compare, allowed himself the briefest and slightest of corner-mouthed smiles.
Bryant spent just over 32 minutes on court, but the battle went on. Time and again, James would impose himself with force at one end, only for his Lakers adversary to respond with a jump shot at the other.
"I knew he wasn't taking this game off for sure and I knew I wasn't," said James, who is now 16-6 against his friend Bryant. "For both of us, we are two sportsmanlike guys, we like the lights and we get up for the best moments.
"To give the fans a show in this one last opportunity is special. It is surreal to think we are going to be playing them next year and he is not in the line-up. I wish I could play him every game."
Bryant had missed four of the Lakers' last six games because of a sore shoulder. It was a far superior performance for him than his final showing at The Q last month, when he turned in 17 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
His last win over James came four years ago, when the Cleveland star still played for the Miami Heat.
"Man, it's just fun," the 1.98m, 96kg Bryant, said. "I enjoy the physicality of it. Playing against him, it's fun because of his size, it's always fun to bump with him and to have that physicality and backing him down and him driving and bumping and all that stuff. It's fun."
However, as well as Bryant played, he did not have enough firepower around him to make the game close. He could not prevent the Lakers slipping to four straight defeats by Cleveland. The Lakers are now 14-52 for the season.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS