It likely was Kobe Bryant's final game at Madison Square Garden, and it surely wasn't the way he would have drawn it up.
Bryant, one of the NBA's all-time greats, did not turn in a performance on Sunday that everyone in the sellout crowd of 19,812 will remember (18 points, 6-for-19 shooting). He did not make plays that left all in the building slack-jawed. And he did not carry his team to a win; the Lakers lost to the Knicks, 99-95.
But there was one last trash-talking exchange with Spike Lee, one more series of man-to-man showdowns with Carmelo Anthony, a chance to see former teammate Derek Fisher blow his cool and one more opportunity to run the floor in a building in which he played the first game in his iconic career.
Bryant has said his 20th NBA season could be his last, and he added that if this was his last game here, "I am absolutely at peace with it."
The crowd showed its appreciation by showering him with several chants of "MVP! MVP!" Each time he touched the ball, there was a palpable charge of anticipation.
"I felt very fortunate to have had as long a career as I have had, to be able to have some of my best performances here in this building," said Bryant, whose 61 points in a February 2009 game remains the record for a visiting player. "I don't think you understand how much I watched this building growing up."
Bryant wasn't the only one moved on this day. Anthony considers him akin to family, and this game, in which they often covered each other, had meaning.
"It kind of reminded me when I was in Denver and those battles back then. It always feels good to go up against kind of my big brother," Anthony said. "If this is his last hurrah, I'm going to miss him. I told him it's not going to feel the same with him being gone. With him helping me throughout my career, being that guy I can talk to, it's not going to be the same."
Bryant mused about Fisher's temper after seeing him draw two technical fouls and an ejection while disputing that Kristaps Porzingis had fouled the coach's former Lakers teammate. He reminisced about coming to the Garden to play in his first All-Star Game in 1998 and got a hug from his former coach -- Knicks president Phil Jackson -- when they chatted in the visitors' locker room after the game.
As Bryant made his way off the court after the final buzzer, he gave a wave in all directions before disappearing into the tunnel to cheers.
"I can remember my first game coming in here and not knowing what the hell to expect . . . being in such a great arena," Bryant said. "And then to be here 20 years later and have this happen? It feels amazing."