There wasn't a player on the Memorial Coliseum court Saturday night who hadn't been impacted by Kobe Bryant's style of playing basketball. And there may not have been a person in the building who hadn't mourned the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others Jan. 26.
In the first game at the Coliseum since then, the Mad Ants channeled the former Laker great and delivered the greatest comeback in G League history. The Mad Ants rallied from 35 points down in the third quarter to beat the Canton Charge 124-118.
“We said, 'Let's try to cut the lead to like 15 and see what happens.' We did it. The team bought in. That's all the happened,” said Daxter Miles Jr., who scored all of his 29 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer from the corner that tied it at 115 with 2:43 left.
Alize Johnson, who has double-doubles in all nine of his G League games this season, had 19 points and 19 rebounds hours after he was sent down by the NBA's Indiana Pacers. His reverse layup with 2:15 left gave Fort Wayne the lead for good at 117-115.
Walt Lemon Jr. had 28 points and Stephan Hicks got all of his 18 in the second half, as the Mad Ants (14-15) won for the 11th time in 16 games.
There were tributes to Bryant throughout the night, including a pregame moment of silence and coach Steve Gansey wearing a No. 24 shirt under his sport jacket.
The Mad Ants had played in Los Angeles the night before Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
Hicks, a native of Los Angeles, said after Saturday's victory, which drew a standing ovation from the 3,719 fans: “It's been a tough week. Not only for me, but for everybody in the whole world. He meant so much to people in their lives. He always fought and played 100% throughout the whole game, so it's good that we tried to do that for him.”
The Mad Ants had been on the other side of the previous greatest comeback in G League history, coughing up a 34-point lead to Lakeland in 2017.
“I'm just happy that all the fans stayed a didn't leave at halftime,” Gansey said. “At halftime, I laid on into (the players) a little bit and I wrote one word on the board – 'fight' – and you've got to take pride in it. We weren't doing anything in that first half. We weren't talking and they were just playing more physical than us. Sometimes you've got to dig deep and find out what you're made of.”
Canton (20-11) was paced by Tyler Cook's 28 points and Sheldon Mac's 27.
“It was just energy and playing hard,” Hicks said. “I don't think we were playing that hard in the first half and they got a lot of easy stuff.”
Miles, who made 10 of 14 shots in the second half, didn't think it was hyperbole to say Kobe impacted the victory.
“I did (feel him), personally. That's my favorite player ever, a big role model for me,” Miles said.
The Mad Ants, who donned jerseys featuring polar bears to support the Special Olympics' Polar Plunge, play host to Raptors 905 at 7 p.m. Monday.