MIAMI: Kobe Bryant's hometown NBA club, the Philadelphia 76ers, paid tribute to the Los Angeles Lakers legend on Tuesday (Jan 28) while heartbroken players tried to cope with the five-time NBA champion's death.
Bryant died Sunday at age 41 in a helicopter crash along with eight other people, including his daughter Gigi, devastating players and fans worldwide.
"It has been really hard to play, really hard to focus," said Boston playmaker Gordon Hayward. "He meant so much to us in the league and across basketball.
"Words can't describe how I think we all feel. It's a tragedy."
Hayward scored a game-high 29 points and Jaylen Brown added 25 to lead the Celtics over Miami 109-101, only the Heat's third home loss of the year.
The NBA postponed the Lakers' home game scheduled Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers in the wake of Bryant's death, which came just hours after Lakers star LeBron James had overtaken Bryant for third on the NBA all-time scoring list.
"He's tore up," ex-teammate Dwyane Wade said of pal James, noting the superstar wanted people to know that "all of us were trying to do our very best to make him proud of us - we were just trying to put ourselves on Kobe's level.
"He stopped the Earth for a day. No one moved. No one did anything. That was how it felt."
At Philadelphia, the 76ers displayed Bryant's number 33 Lower Merion High School jersey, showed nine lights in a darkened arena in tribute to each crash victim, had a 33-second moment of silence and a video tribute for Bryant before defeating Golden State 115-104.
Cameroonian centre Joel Embiid, back for the 76ers after missing three weeks with a torn finger ligament on his left hand, wore number 24 as a tribute to Bryant and scored 24 points while pulling down 10 rebounds.
'ENJOY EVERY DAY'
Brazilian guard Raul Neto came off the Sixers' bench to score 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, hitting 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
Neto had played for Utah in 2016 when Bryant unleashed a 60-point effort against the Jazz in the final game of his epic career, a "great experience" for the South American even in defeat.
"It was something special, something I'll take away for the rest of my life," Neto said. "I'll remember his face, the way he loved that game. He showed me his passion. Playing against him, I saw that on his face.
"That's what I'll take from that game. The 60 points, he basically did that by himself. He just went off. He was amazing."
Neto was emotionally touched by the pre-game ceremony, drawing lessons from seeing Bryant gone so shockingly.
"If we take something from that, it's enjoy every day we are here, just stay present and stay in the moment," Neto said. "That got me focused on the game."
New Orleans teen Zion Williamson, whose NBA debut was delayed until last week due to injury, scored 14 points and added nine rebounds in his first NBA road game as the Pelicans pounded Cleveland 125-111.
"I'm 19," Williamson said. "It's a lot to take in sometimes. I feel like people forget that."
OLADIPO BACK WEDNESDAY
Indiana guard Victor Oladipo will return after missing a year with a right knee injury on Wednesday when the Pacers entertain Chicago.
"I'm just going to enjoy being able to play," Oladipo said. "I don't expect to do anything out there miraculous."
Defending champion Toronto beat visiting Atlanta 130-114 behind 24 points and nine rebounds by Cameroon star Pascal Siakam and 24 points and 10 rebounds by Spain's Serge Ibaka.
With Greek star Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined by a sore right shoulder, the Milwaukee Bucks had 51 points and 10 rebounds from Khris Middleton in a 151-131 victory over visiting Washington, with Bradley Beal hitting 47 in a losing cause.
Terry Rozier scored 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Charlotte over visiting New York 97-92 while Memphis beat visiting Denver 104-96 and Phoenix defeated Dallas 133-104.
Canadian centre Dwight Powell of the Dallas Mavericks will miss the remainder of the NBA season after suffering a ruptured right Achilles tendon.