The work ethic of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant is one of his key attributes that separated him from the rest of the NBA. His pure dedication to his craft set the stage for many historic nights.
One game in which that was evident was against the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 28, 2004. The game at Staples Center featured the beginning of the new era of Lakers basketball. Bryant was joined by a completely new starting lineup, including Chucky Atkins, Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, and Chris Mihm.
The days of the dynasty with Shaquille O’Neal were over, with Bryant now having to justify the Lakers’ decision to stick with him and shoulder the weight of an entire franchise.
Bryant would show off his grit and ability to play through the pain early on in this game, after falling awkwardly on his body on a lay-up attempt. The future Hall-of-Famer gathered himself after the painful injury and went to the locker room to receive treatment and a diagnosis.
An examination revealed Bryant had suffered a sprained shoulder, limiting his movement and range of motion. However, Bryant rarely let any obstacle stop him. He returned to the team soon after, scoring a total of 25 points in the first half.
After falling behind 26-24 to the Raptors after the first quarter, the Lakers outscored their opponents, 35-29, to conclude the first half. Bryant was once again unstoppable, scoring over the likes of Morris Peterson, Jalen Rose, and Rafer Alston.
Toronto managed to the turn the momentum around in the third quarter, outscoring Los Angeles by five points, giving them a two-point lead entering the fourth. It was there where Bryant would save his best performance for last, with the help of his teammates.
Like he often did, No. 8 sparked a fire in the clutch moments and promptly led the Lakers on a 32-8 run to end the game. The Lower Merion product scored 17 points during that stretch, along with some help from Odom and Butler.
Following the game, Bryant admitted that there were certain movements he could not do with his shoulder. Bryant finished the contest with 48 points, on an efficient 14-for-26 shooting, including 16 of 18 free throws, four assists, and two steals.
Odom also provided a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, while Butler chipped in 18 points and nine rebounds. The Lakers would go on to win by a final score of 117-99.
Impressive as Bryant’s performance was, he ultimately topped it, again at the Raptors’ expense, by scoring 81 points in January 2006.