LOS ANGELES • The Minnesota Timberwolves recorded an emotional season-opening victory on Wednesday by toppling Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers 112-111, just 72 hours after losing head coach Flip Saunders to cancer.
The two National Basketball Association (NBA) league doormats from last year put on an exciting display as the Timberwolves rallied from a nine-point half-time deficit then forced Lakers guard Lou Williams to miss a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer.
Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio dedicated the thrilling win to Saunders, who died at aged 60 from Hodgkin's lymphoma on Sunday, after a 17-year career that also saw him coach the Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons.
"It has been tough. He was everything for us and I think he really helped us today. Wherever he is, we are going to miss him," said Rubio, who scored a career-high 28 points and delivered 14 assists.
"We came here to fight because that is the way he taught us."
It was a disappointing return to the court for Bryant, who played just 35 games last season after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in January.
The five-time NBA champion scored a team-high 24 points, but more importantly he set a record for most seasons played with the same franchise the moment he stepped onto the court at Staples Center arena to begin his 20th campaign with the Lakers.
Bryant, who surpassed former Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton's mark of 19 consecutive seasons with the same club, managed just eight-of-24 shooting and missed 10-of-13 three-point attempts.
"I felt good but my shots didn't go in in the fourth quarter," said Bryant. "My timing will come back but I felt good."