January 22, 2006 – Remembering 81 Day

Jan. 22, 2006; 7:25 p.m. pacific standard time. Five minutes until the tipoff of the Lakers and Raptors game at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Lakers are barely floating above .500 at 21-19 and the Raptors are sitting at a lowly 14-26. There is not much for fans to expect of the game; the Lakers will probably win by a just-better-than-slim margin and it’s pretty much a given Kobe’s going to score at least 35 points. After the final buzzer, the season will move on, and the game will ultimately be forgotten.

Oh, how the basketball world was so terribly mistaken.

********

Rewind time about a month prior. It’s December 21, 2005 and the Lakers are playing a home game against the Dallas Mavericks (the eventual runner-up in the 2006 NBA Finals). After three quarters of play, the score is 95-61 with the Lakers in the lead. But what is even more impressive, Kobe has 62 of the Lakers 95 points. In 33 (yeah, he didn’t even play a full three quarters), Kobe Bryant has outscored the ENTIRE Dallas Mavericks’ team … by himself.

12 more minutes of play – everyone, from the fans, the Lakers’ coaches, Kobe’s teammates and probably the entire Dallas team is wondering how many points he’s going to be able to rack up on them with an entire quarter of action remaining. The game’s final buzzer sounds; Kobe’s total in the box score: 62 points. He sat on the bench for the entire fourth period, relaxing in a rare moment of bliss in 2006, while Sasha Vujacic finishes out the game at his position.

The fans, they sat in awe, but also in agony; blown away at his offensive dominance, yet frustrated that they did not get to see and be apart of one of the most historic games in basketball history. Kobe had just scored 30 points in the third quarter, if he could do that again – which, at that point, seemed to be a very likely scenario – he would be entering the 90-point area. No, not the Lakers – just Kobe.

********

It’s halftime and the Lakers are losing, 63-49. Kobe has 26 points, nothing out of the ordinary as this season was simply an offensive showcase for him. He’s probably going to finish with 50 and the Lakers are going to get it together and win; or Kobe is going to go cold, but continue to jack up shots while the Lakers fall again in frustrating fashion.

The third quarter starts; less than three minutes into the period and Morris Peterson knocks down a pair of free-throws to put the Raptors up by 18.

A few fans leave, others stop paying attention (most in attendance probably wish they were at home, watching the Phoenix-Seattle game that ends up going into double-overtime and Seattle wins 152-149). For Laker fans, it’s just another disappointing loss to eventually bury and move on from.

Then, Kobe hits a jumper, then back-to-back three-pointers. Toronto’s lead is now at 10, and Kobe now has 41 points. People start to realize he’s going to score a lot tonight, and maybe the Lakers will win. He hits another three-pointer, which he follows up with a trademark and-one jumper. Lakers only trail by nine.

Next: Can you guess what happens next?

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