Kyrie Irving is attempting to process the death of Kobe Bryant by reflecting on the lessons his friend taught him.
He put them to good use Friday, when he scored a season-high 54 points, making all 10 shots in the first half and 19-of-23 for the game, to lead the Brooklyn Nets to a 133-118 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
"It's an open wound," Irving said. "But I think just coming out here, knowing that this is a place where we connected on a deeper scale, it makes a lot of sense, what's happening."
His recollections of Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter Gianna and seven others Sunday, pushed Irving throughout the game.
"I hit a few shots in the first half. I had to keep it going and [use the] Kobe mentality, Mamba mentality," Irving said. "[I had to] keep going, keep going, so it felt good, felt good."
Irving's previous season high was 50 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the season-opening 127-126 loss on Oct. 23. Irving is the first player in Nets franchise history to score 45 points in three games in a single season.
Irving shot 82.6% from the field, the sixth-best shooting percentage in a 50-point game in NBA history and the best since Michael Jordan shot 82.8% on Nov. 16, 1988, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Only one other player has missed four shots or fewer in a 50-point game in NBA history: Wilt Chamberlain, who did so twice.
"A little bit was making shots," Dinwiddie said. "It's all about taking care of your bodies, being locked in, kind of mentally pushing through some of fatigue because everybody's going to have it, and just keeping that focus."
The Nets never trailed in their second straight win and third in their past four games, with Irving playing the lead role. He scored 16 points in the first quarter on 6-of-6 shooting, and by halftime, he was up to 27 points. Irving capped the half by scoring five points in the final 4.9 seconds, including a buzzer-beating 3 from the right side that gave the Nets a 73-57 lead.
Irving also had help, as Dinwiddie had 15 points, and Prince had 11 in the opening 24 minutes.
"My teammates were in the right spots," Irving said. "They were being aggressive. When they're being aggressive like that, it makes my job a lot easier."
One of Brooklyn's two prized free-agent signings, along with Kevin Durant, Irving didn't miss his first shot from the field until 1:24 into the third, a twisting fadeaway midrange jumper from the left side.
"Well, when you're that hot, you expect a guy to go down, [and] it usually happens [because] you're so hot, but it never happened," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "Even that fast-break one at the end, where he kind of served it around and hit a tough shot, [a] pull-up in the lane. I think he was 8-for-8 at the rim. His finishing was superb. And when he shoots it like that from 3, [he's] tough to stop, tough guard."
The Bulls cut Nets' lead to 105-99 on Coby White's 3-pointer 1:17 into the fourth, but that was as close as they got. From that point, Brooklyn outscored Chicago 28-19.
Irving made two free throws with 3:50 left to set a season high as chants of "MVP! MVP!" rained down from the sellout crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center. On the next possession, he knocked down a midrange jumper.
"It felt incredible," Irving said. "You just want to carry that over into the next game."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.