(Republished from May 13, 2013)
I’ve been asked to come up with a weekly column highlighting a historic box score, via basketball-reference.com.
So, for the inception of this new column, I decided to feature the box score of Kobe Bryant‘s historic 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006.
This game is especially significant for me because I was at the game! It was a very random game that my brother convinced me to go to, and we nearly didn’t even make it into Staples Center due to a few obstacles, but we finally did make it in.
We got to our seats about midway through the first quarter, and as I sat down in the second seat of row 14 in section 103 (a view from which I will never forget), it was evident that the Lakers were simply not into the game at all.
Down by a large margin in the first half, I remember saying to myself “All that trouble to get to the game and we’re getting blown out,” and soon enough halftime had arrived with the Lakers trailing 63-49.
There was one bright spot–Kobe Bryant–who had 26 points, but that was an afterthought; if not a thought at all.
After halftime, the Lakers trailed 71-53 at one point–and then Kobe Bryant put the game on his back and went off.
He began hitting shot after shot, knocking in three-pointer after three, and after three quarters the Lakers–well, pretty much Kobe Bryant–had a 91-85 lead over the Raptors.
However, the focus in the building wasn’t yet on Kobe, but rather the game itself and how the Lakers dug themselves out of an immense hole early on. Sure, everybody knew it was Kobe who had carried the Lakers and that he was having an extremely inspired game, but nobody thought he was on his way to an 81-point stat line.
Not until the points statistic on the scoreboard started edging towards 70 did the focus shift away from the game itself, and onto Kobe Bryant. The game was no longer about the Lakers’ comeback on the Raptors, as that became the afterthought, but rather about how many points Kobe could score.
As you can see from the box score below, Kobe connected on 28 of 46 field goals (60.9 percent) and 7 seven of 13 three-pointers (54 percent). He was simply unstoppable, and he seemingly couldn’t miss anything he chucked up towards the rim.
This forced the Raptors to actually employ a Hack-A-Kobe strategy because they simply could not deal with him shooting any more field goals and further demoralizing their defense, which accounts for a portion of the 18 of 20 free throws Kobe–then Number Eight–knocked down.
For most of his points after 70, he earned them at the free-throw line, and by that time everyone in the building was well aware of the historic treat they were in for. The entire building was on their feet and roared even louder when Phil Jackson pulled Bryant with 4.2 seconds left to go in the ballgame, to which Kobe acknowledged the crowd and received a warm embrace from the Zen Master.
The Lakers won the game 122-104, by the way, meaning Kobe led the Lakers to a 36 point swing after being down by 18 at one point and subsequently winning by 18 points.
After the game, Jackson would go on to say:
“That was something to behold,” Jackson said. “It was another level. I’ve seen some remarkable games, but I’ve never seen one like that before.”
It was certainly a memorable, remarkable performance–one accomplished in regulation after just 41:56 minutes of play—and one that I will cherish forever as one of my greatest memories.