"OK, he's here in the building," James said he thought in the moment, when the two numbers that Bryant wore during his career appeared on the scoreboard.
The Los Angeles Lakers dominated Portland the rest of the way Monday night, winning 135-115 to take a 3-1 advantage in their playoff series.
James had 30 points and 10 assists in 28 minutes before heading to the bench late in the third quarter. The Lakers led by as many as 38 points for their third straight win in the opening-round series, the team's first playoff appearance since 2013.
After the game, James detailed the emotional burden of both honoring Bryant and coping with the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
"I can't even enjoy a playoff win right now, which is the sad part," he said.
James spoke at length about the shooting, which has sparked violent protests. Blake, who remained hospitalized on Monday, was shot, apparently in the back, as he leaned into his SUV while his three children sat in the vehicle.
"We are scared as Black people in America," James said. "Black men, Black women, Black kids. We are, we are terrified."
The Trail Blazers won the opener but have appeared gassed in the past two games. Damian Lillard, the MVP of the seeding games in the NBA bubble, had 11 points before leaving with a right knee injury in the third. Jusuf Nurkic had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Anthony Davis added 18 points in 18 minutes for the Lakers before leaving the game midway through the third with back spasms.
The Lakers, the top seed in the Western Conference, can close out the series on Wednesday.
After the game, Blazers coach Terry Stotts was asked to describe his team's position.
"Not good," he said.
"You're down 1-3, it's a tough position against a good team," Stotts added. "We'll regroup, it's one game at a time. You can break out all the cliches, but we know what we're up against when you're down to a good team 3-1, so we've got to battle."
It was considered "Kobe Day" because Monday was 8/24, the two numbers Bryant wore during his 20-year career.
Los Angeles wore "Black Mamba" jerseys with a heart-shaped No. 2 patch to honor Bryant's daughter, Gianna.
Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash with his daughter in January, would have celebrated his 42nd birthday on Sunday.
"To be able to continue his legacy is something that hits home for me, and it's easy for me because I put in the work," James said. "And if you want to see results you got to work at it. It's not about the wins and losses."
Inspired by Bryant, the Lakers' 24-8 lead seemed fortuitous, and they went on to outscore the Blazers 43-25 in the first quarter.
The Lakers led 80-51 at the half. It was the most points in a half for Los Angeles in a playoff game since 1987.
James nailed 3-pointer from some 36 feet out and then demonstratively nodded as the Lakers took an 80-53 lead.
Lillard dislocated his left index finger in Game 2 and backcourt mate CJ McCollum has been playing with a fractured vertebra in his lower back.
Stotts said following the game that he did not have an update on Lillard's status. He was undergoing an MRI.
Lakers: Rajon Rondo did not play, again spoiling his return from a right thumb injury. Rondo was a late scratch from Game 3 because of back spasms.
Trail Blazers: F Zach Collins will need surgery on his left ankle. Collins had just returned from a shoulder injury that kept him out of much of the season.
Game 5 is Wednesday.
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