Five years ago today, the Lakers were in a much different place than they are now. Rather than competing for championships, they were competing just to make the playoffs. They were only one dreadful season removed from trading Shaq, a year that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time in Kobe’s career (a trip to the lottery that netted Andrew Bynum, by the way), and were dealing with the fact that they may have actually been the 2nd best team in LA. A pretty far cry from the back to back defending NBA championship team we see today.
On that faithful Sunday, the Lakers entered the game 2 games over .500, had lost two games in a row and were facing the Raptors. And on that day, Kobe did what was before thought to be impossible. He scored 81 points in a single game in leading the Lakers to a victory in which they trailed for most of the game. Simply amazing. On the 5th anniversary of that game, we take you around the internet with some good stories remembering that day. Enjoy.
From Andy Kamentzky, Land O Lakers: By the time he took a final seat to a thunderous ovation, Bryant had scored 81 points, the second highest single-game total in NBA history. Since that iconic moment, so much has changed regarding Kobe. He’s grown as a player, with a desire to improve that is unmatched by any elite player in the league. He’s grown as a leader, having developed the ability to communicate high standards for teammates without alienating them in the process. He’s grown as a basketball mind, typically a step or two ahead of the competition mentally. And he’s grown as an NBA face, now as popular as he was before scandal derailed his image.
From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: “I just remember we were down 16 points to a bad Raptors team and we had just lost I think to Houston the game before and it was just kind of doom and gloom. We needed to win and I just got hot,” Bryant said Friday after shootaround in preparation for the Lakers’ game against the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers ending up winning the game 122-104 against a Toronto team that had a record of just 14-26. Los Angeles actually trailed the Raptors by 18 points early on in the third quarter before Bryant really went off, scoring 51 of his 55 second-half points from that point on. Bryant scored 14 points in the first quarter, 12 in the second, 27 in the third and 28 in the fourth.
From Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun: It is five years ago today that Kobe Bryant made headlines at the expense of the Toronto Raptors. Jay Triano was an assistant and Jose Calderon was a rookie when Bryant got locked in like no one before or since other than that Wilt Chamberlain fellow who had 100 way back in 1962. Bryant’s 81 points that night are the stuff legends are made of. What people looking back on that night though forget, and something Triano pointed out, is the Raptors had a 16-point lead as late as the second half in that game. And what Joe Public doesn’t realize is that night the Raptors went into the game intent on giving Bryant single coverage and making sure no one else around him got on any kind of roll. Even if Kobe had gone off for 40, the thinking was, they limit the surrounding cast to very little and they still have a good shot to win the game.
From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Five years ago Saturday, Kobe Bryant took over a game like nobody ever quite had before. Sure, Wilt got triple digits one time, but that had an element of sham to it (his teammates were fouling to stop the clock and get the ball back so they could feed him and get him over the mark). Kobe Bryant didn’t drop 81 on the Toronto Raptors because he could, he did it because he needed to. Well, a little of both, really. But he did it in the flow of the game. The Lakers trailed early to the Raptors and L.A. was playing in one of its lazy funks that it still suffers from at times. And, as he does now, Kobe decided to put the team on his back and carry them to a win.
UPDATE: From Mark Medina, LA Times Laker Blog: Finally, there came a point when Coach Phil Jackson felt comfortable enough the Lakers would secure a victory that Kobe Bryant no longer needed to be on the court. “Maybe I should take him out because the game is in the bag,” Jackson recalled saying to Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen, as detailed in the updated edition of his book, “Sacred Hoops.” According to Jackson, Hamblen responded this way: “There would be a riot.” That’s because at that point very little of the 18,887 at Staples Center cheered because the Lakers would prevail in a 112-104 victory over Toronto after overcoming a 14-point halftime deficit exactly five years ago. No, the fans chanted “M-V-P” throughout the game and stood up for the entire fourth quarter as they witnessed Bryant scoring 81 points, marking the second-highest scoring total in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance with Philadelphia against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962. It’s a good thing Jackson heeded Hamblen’s advice because he initially considered yanking Bryant when he had 77 points, one point behind Chamberlain’s then-No.-2-all-time mark when Philadelphia visited the Lakers in a 151-147 triple-overtime loss on Dec. 8, 1961.
UPDATE #2: From Michael Goldsholl, Lakers Nation: 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.
Finally, take a look at the box score from that game. Yeah, the Lakers had Lamar Odom at that time, but look at the other names. Kwame, Smush, Cook, George. How did that team even make the post-season? And here is the video of his historical scoring outburst. Even 5 years later, all I can say is WOW.