Los Angeles, Feb 1: LeBron James shed tears, Usher sang 'Amazing Grace' and Staples Center fell silent in reverence to Kobe Bryant as the Los Angeles Lakers returned to the floor on Friday.
Fans crowded outside the venue and those inside, including the players, donned replica Bryant jerseys amid heartfelt tributes to a franchise legend and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
An emotional video played on the big screen and a 24.2 second moment of silence was taken to honour all seven victims of Sunday's helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
James read their names and gave a speech asking for the event to be a "celebration" of Bryant before the on-court action against the visiting Portland Trail Blazers began.
After a subdued start, Damian Lillard lifted the energy in the third quarter, hitting 23 points en route to a game-high 48 to issue the Lakers a 127-119 loss.
Lillard became the first NBA player to make 40 three-point shots in a five-game span and the first to record at least 35 points, five rebounds, five assists and five three-pointers in five straight games.
"Tonight we celebrate the kid that came here at 18, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad we've seen over the last three years.” pic.twitter.com/0sS7e91cuz— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020
Irving inspires Nets, Nuggets upset Bucks
On the other side of the country, an inspired Kyrie Irving paid a personal tribute to his old mentor in fitting fashion.
The Brooklyn Nets guard, who earlier in the week vowed to "carry the torch", shot 19-of-23 from the floor and hit seven three-pointers as he tallied 54 points, five rebounds and five assists in a 133-118 win over the Chicago Bulls.
James Harden (35 points, 16 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (32 points, nine assists) did likewise, the pair leading the Houston Rockets to a 128-121 victory against the Dallas Mavericks, who were without the injured Luka Doncic.
Giannis Antetokounmpo played his part, putting up 31 points in a double-double at Fiserv Forum, but the Milwaukee Bucks failed to prolong their nine-game winning run, losing to the Denver Nuggets 127-115.
The Toronto Raptors had more success preserving a streak, recording a 10th successive victory thanks to Pascal Siakam's 30 points in a 105-92 road win over the Detroit Pistons.
Zion Williamson posted a career-high 24 points in 29 minutes to outscore draft rival Ja Morant at Smoothie King Center, the New Orleans Pelicans topping the Memphis Grizzlies 139-111.
Rubio struggles in Suns loss
The Phoenix Suns might have avoided a late 111-107 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder had Ricky Rubio made more of his shooting opportunities, the Spaniard going two-of-eight from the floor for eight points in 30 minutes.
Lillard too hot for Lakers
The Lakers simply could not stop Lillard, the All-Star reserve delivering a clinic in long-range shooting.
Damian Lillard scores 23 PTS in the 3rd and has 42 total. Trail Blazers lead Lakers 108-96 on ESPN. pic.twitter.com/0TOu1wMaZo— NBA (@NBA) February 1, 2020
Toronto Raptors 105-92 Detroit Pistons Houston Rockets 128-121 Dallas Mavericks Brooklyn Nets 133-118 Chicago Bulls New Orleans Pelicans 139-111 Memphis Grizzlies Oklahoma City Thunder 111-107 Phoenix Suns Denver Nuggets 127-115 Milwaukee Bucks Portland Trail Blazers 127-119 Los Angeles Lakers
76ers at Celtics
Due to knee soreness, the Boston Celtics (32-15) could be without Kemba Walker for Saturday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers (31-18).