The tribute began long before tip-off in Cleveland and didn’t end even after the final horn. It was emotional, comedic, slightly over-the-top.
And straight from the heart.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas will never forget it.
Cleveland welcomed back its adored center yesterday, honoring the big man known as “Z’’ throughout the Cavaliers’ 97-90 win over the undermanned Sacramento Kings, who nearly wrecked the celebration with a gutty performance that came up just short.
LeBron James scored 23 of his 34 points in the second half and the Cavaliers put away the Kings in the closing minutes to cap a day when Ilgauskas returned to the only home court he has known as an NBA player.
Afterward, the humble, gentle giant, who scored 4 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in 23 minutes, said he was overwhelmed by the public display of affection.
“I didn’t know that’s what it was going to turn into, ‘Z Day’ ,’’ said Ilgauskas, who re-signed with Cleveland this week after being traded to Washington in February for Antawn Jamison. “I’m sure people appreciate what I’ve done and stood for all these years and I appreciate what they’ve done for me and my family.’’
Bucks 108, Grizzlies 103 — John Salmons scored 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter and overtime as host Milwaukee rallied to beat Memphis.
Salmons twice put the Bucks ahead in the extra period with baskets, including a 14-foot fadeaway with 1:35 left that gave Milwaukee the lead for good.
Andrew Bogut had 18 points and 11 rebounds after missing one game with a sore back.
Magic 103, Nuggets 97 — J.J. Redick had 23 points and career highs of 8 assists and 7 rebounds in place of an injured Vince Carter, helping host Orlando defeat Denver.
The Magic broke away with an 18-7 run late in the fourth quarter. The spurt included a jumper by Redick that rolled around the rim four times before sinking, with Redick laughing all the way back downcourt.
Heat 97, Raptors 94 — Dwyane Wade scored 32 points and host Miami rallied from a 17-point deficit to edge Toronto.
The Heat outscored the Raptors, 19-7, over the final 6:12, taking the lead for good at 91-89 on Carlos Arroyo’s jumper with 59 seconds remaining.
Trail Blazers 92, Thunder 87 — Andre Miller scored 26 points, Brandon Roy added 20, and host Portland topped Oklahoma City to move into a tie with the Thunder for sixth place in the Western Conference.
Oklahoma City trailed by as many as 9 in the fourth quarter but had a chance to tie in the final seconds. Kevin Durant’s 3-pointer with about seven seconds left came up short, and Miller hit two free throws with 4.6 seconds left to ice it.
Suns 111, Timberwolves 105 — Amare Stoudemire had 30 points and 17 rebounds, helping visiting Phoenix win a season-high seventh straight and sending Minnesota to a franchise record-tying 16th loss in a row.
Warriors 121, Clippers 103 — Rookie forward Reggie Williams scored 25 points in his second NBA start and Golden State routed host Los Angeles, putting Don Nelson within three victories of overtaking Lenny Wilkens as the winningest coach in NBA history during the regular season.
Hawks 94, Pacers 84 — Josh Smith had 21 points and 13 rebounds and Al Horford added 18 points and 12 boards as host Atlanta snapped Indiana’s five-game winning streak.
Bulls 110, Pistons 103 — Flip Murray scored 23 points, Derrick Rose added 19 points and nine assists, and visiting Chicago held off hapless Detroit. The Pistons have lost eight straight and 15 of 17.