NEW YORK • The New York Knicks, aided by a late three-pointer from Langston Galloway, beat the Los Angeles Lakers 99-95 on Sunday to lend a bittersweet flavour to Kobe Bryant's likely last game at Madison Square Garden.
The 37-year-old Bryant, in his 20th and probably final season with the Lakers, says he does not want the 2015-16 National Basketball Association (NBA) league campaign to turn into a farewell tour.
But he may not be able to prevent it, if the adoring reception he received from New York basketball fans is any indication.
"It felt amazing," said Bryant, who drew a roar almost every time he touched the ball.
He had received a similar welcome in Brooklyn two nights earlier, but the cheers resonated even more in Madison Square Garden, where he played his first NBA All-Star Game in 1998 and where he scored a stunning 61 points against the Knicks on Feb 2, 2009.
"I remember coming here for my first game, not knowing what the hell to expect, what to do," he said. "To be here 20 years later and have that (cheering) happen feels amazing."
Although Bryant said he was not certain that was his Madison Square Garden farewell, Lakers coach Byron Scott said last weekend that he got his first hint from Bryant that the player would not return after his current contract expires at the end of the season.
Scott told reporters in New York that he had asked Bryant about something coming up next summer. "His answer was, 'This might be my last year'," Scott said.
The five-time NBA champion led the Lakers with 18 points on six-of-18 shooting. Centre Roy Hibbert added 18 points and nine rebounds and second-year guard Jordan Clarkson contributed 10 points.
But a close game got away from the Lakers late in the fourth quarter.
Galloway drained a three-pointer with two minutes remaining for a two-point Knicks lead and the hosts sealed their first home win of the season.
"I think we just got bogged down mentally. We stopped moving the ball like we did earlier. Everything was contested and the defence was right in front of us. I thought we really lost our focus," Scott said.
Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with a game-high 24 points, 11 of them in the fourth quarter and also pulled down eight rebounds.
He made sure to savour a spirited match-up with the player he affectionately calls his "big brother" - spending much of the game in a physical battle with Bryant on both sides of the floor.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS