Sports Nut

Kobe Bryant’s Juicy Bits

An in-depth analysis of the Lakers star’s 81-point game.

Is Bryant the second coming?
        Click image to expand.
Is Bryant the second coming?

Critics are already hailing Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game on Sunday as the “greatest individual performance ever recorded.” The designation was remarkably swift, even for sportswriters, who seemed to glance only at Bryant’s line—28 of 46 from the field, 7 of 10 from the three-point line, and 18 of 20 from the free-throw line—before making up their minds. Just like that, Kobe had supplanted Chamberlain’s tour de force in Hershey, Pa., Jordan’s in Boston, and, apparently, Jesus’ in Galilee. “You’re sitting and watching,” Lakers owner Jerry Buss crowed, “and it’s like a miracle unfolding in front of your eyes and you can’t accept it.”

But just how amazing was Kobe Bryant’s performance? Although everyone’s seen the highlights 487 times, not many have taken in the whole game (in which, incidentally, the Lakers beat the Toronto Raptors, 122-104). Thanks to Google’s new partnership with the NBA, you can now watch the historic game online for $3.95. (To buy the game, click here.)

For those of you who don’t care to watch Kobe demand the ball for two and a half hours—and for those who just want to skip ahead to the good parts—here’s a handy synopsis of Kobe’s greatest, and not-so-great, moments.

First Quarter

30 seconds into the video: Bryant passes to Kwame Brown at the top of the key. By my count, this is one of only 10 passes Bryant throws in the first half.
Score: Raptors 0, Lakers 0. Kobe: 0 points.

3:00: Bryant scores his first points on a reverse layup. A theme is established: Kobe gets ball early in possession. Kobe dribbles ball. Kobe shoots ball. Everyone watches.
Score: Raptors 5, Lakers 3. Kobe: 2 points.

13:35: Bryant feeds Chris Mihm in the post. Mihm holds the ball, holds it some more, drop-steps baseline, fades, and twirls a soft half-hook through the net. The move takes several seconds, but Bryant is credited with an assist anyway. This represents 50 percent of his total for the game.
Score: Raptors 25, Lakers 19. Kobe: 8 points.

16:20: This night isn’t notable just for Kobe’s amazing point total. It might also represent the worst celebrity turnout in Staples Center history. The requisite pan through the crowd reveals Chris Rock, Joe Walsh of the Eagles, and Andy Dick.
Score: Raptors 25, Lakers 19. Kobe: 8 points.

Second Quarter

29:08: Meet Raptors forward Pape Sow, part of the defense that would hold Bryant under 82 points. Last week, he was playing for the NBDL’s Arkansas RimRockers.
Score: Raptors38, Lakers 29. Kobe: 14 points.

35:04: Requisite Staples Center celebrity interview: The Lakers play-by-play man asks a miked-up Chris Rock, “Do you think [Kobe is] the best player in the league right now, Chris?” Rock, a Knicks fan, replies: “Is Kobe the best player in the league? Uh, he’s pretty good. The best player on a bad team in the league, I’ll tell you that. … Of all the players on all the bad teams, he’s the best.” The two announcers chuckle. It’s clear that Rock is not joking.The conversation then turns to what “Katzenberg is doing.”
Score: Raptors 40, Lakers 29. Kobe: 14 points.

43:07: Bryant, having returned to the floor, hits a three-pointer from the corner.
Score: Raptors 46, Lakers 35. Kobe: 17 points.

46:31: Bryant drives one-on-four and badly short-arms a fadeaway.
Score: Raptors 48, Lakers 37. Kobe: 17 points.

47:32: Los Angeles runs a bit of Coach Phil Jackson’s famed triangle offense, which yields a backdoor pass and a dunk for Bryant.
Score: Raptors 52, Lakers 37. Kobe: 19 points.

54:22: Kobe gets ball early in possession. Kobe dribbles ball. Kobe shoots ball. Everyone else watches.
Score: Raptors 60, Lakers 49. Kobe: 26 points.


1:05:37: With the Lakers in danger of losing their third straight game—to the woeful Raptors, no less—NBA stiff-turned-analyst Jack Haley is asked if the 14-point deficit is one that “Kobe Bryant alone can overcome.” Haley is prescient: “No, he can’t.”
Score: Raptors 63, Lakers 49. Kobe: 26 points.

Third Quarter 

1:11:09: Bryant takes the floor to start the second half. A woman behind the Lakers bench appears to be knitting.
Score: Raptors 63, Lakers 49. Kobe: 26 points.

1:11:49: Lamar Odom drives the lane. Bryant, out on the wing, waves his right arm—the ball hog’s frantic semaphore.
Score: Raptors 63, Lakers 49. Kobe: 26 points.

1:18:27: On a fast break, Bryant weaves the ball between his legs, then pulls up behind the three-point line and hits with a hand in his face. The crowd awakens from its stupor.
Score: Raptors 71, Lakers 58. Kobe: 35 points. 

1:19: Bryant hits another long three. Phil Jackson awakens from his stupor.
Score: Raptors 73, Lakers 61. Kobe: 38 points.

1:20:40: Odom, the Lakers’ second-best player, scores his first point of the game on a free throw, ending Bryant’s run of 19 straight Lakers points.
Score: Raptors 75, Lakers, 62. Kobe: 38 points.

1:30:16: Bryant makes a long three, leading the Raptors to call a timeout. Approaching the bench, Phil Jackson, long a proponent of team play, looks faintly appalled.
Score: Raptors 78, Lakers 73. Kobe: 47 points.

1:36:39: Odom, double-teamed in the corner, flicks a long wraparound bounce pass between a defender and the baseline, finding Smush Parker for a dunk. It’s the prettiest play of the night. Bryant hovers at the edge of the screen, seemingly calling for the ball.
Score: Raptors 82, Lakers 77. Kobe: 47 points.

1:42:45: Bryant jumps in the passing lane, tips the ball, chases it down, then dunks, giving the Lakers the lead for good.
Score: Lakers 87, Raptors 85. Kobe: 51 points.

Fourth Quarter

1:52:04: “M-V-P!” chant begins in earnest. Voting on the award set to commence in three months.
Score: Lakers 91, Raptors 88. Kobe: 53 points. 

2:01:43: Double-teamed, Bryant finds an open Odom, who pops a three-pointer. This represents the other 50 percent of Bryant’s assist total.
Score: Lakers 100, Raptors 93. Kobe: 59 points.

2:03:58: Bryant, two points shy of a new career high, is fouled on an absurdly ill-advised three-point attempt. The announcers exult, nearly in unison, “Three free throws!”
Score: Lakers 102, Raptors 94. Kobe: 61 points.

2:05:54: Lakers assistant Tex Winter, the father of the triangle offense, speaks with Bryant during a timeout. He replies with some sort of hand gesture. Loose translation: “I do not wholeheartedly embrace the concept of your ball-sharing offense.”
Score: Lakers 105, Raptors 94. Kobe: 64 points. 

2:09:05: Trapped along the baseline, Bryant is forced to call timeout. In a curious act of sportsmanship, this draws a butt slap from Toronto’s Jalen Rose and a back pat from Matt Bonner, who appears to vow to never again wash his hand. In another era, Charles Oakley would’ve chewed off Kobe’s right arm and spat it onto Dyan Cannon’s lap by now.
Score: Lakers 108, Raptors 96. Kobe: 67 points.

2:17:41: The play-by-play man notes after Bryant misses a long three that “it really is all about Kobe at this point,” a piece of analysis that comes about 2 hours, 17 minutes, and 41 seconds too late.
Score: Lakers 117, Raptors 102. Kobe: 76 points.

2:21:13: Bryant hits a free throw to end his scoring for the night. With 40 seconds remaining, the color commentator demands that somebody either commit a foul or dribble out of bounds, thus allowing Bryant to bask in ovation.
Score: Lakers 122, Raptors 102. Kobe: 81 points.

2:21:55: Pape Sow obliges, bouncing the ball into the first row. Bryant basks in ovation.
Score: Lakers 122, Raptors 102. Kobe: 81 points.

2:23:48: On his way to the locker room, Bryant informs the courtside reporter that “what really matters” is “getting out of here with a ‘W.’ “
Score: Lakers 122, Raptors 104. Kobe: 81 points.