A double digit hole to cellar dwellers in the Atlantic division of the Eastern Conference after two straight road losses to division rivals on a day when champions were crowned and one can understand why Kobe Bryant torched the Raptors for 81 points. I don’t want to say that it was a matter of time, but the guy had been averaging 40+ during the last month and already scored a then career high 62 just over one month ago. This was the most impressive display of shooting I have ever seen in an NBA basektball game. Seven of 13 from behind the arc. Twenty-eight out of 46 from the field and 90% from the line.
The game flow was terrible from the start. The Lakers had just come off a gravity plunge in Phoenix falling to the division leaders by 13 after winning 6 out of their last 8 and looking up towards possibly contending for the Pacific crown. They fell behind early to the Raptors. You gotta be kidding me I thought, not of the 26 first half points from the Laker superstar, but the 14 point half time deficit. The team was flat. Sure, they won by 18, but they were down 18 well into the 3rd quarter. This was by no means a cruise.
Kobe did what he had to do. It was a never a hot dog. Maybe he took some vanity shots late in the 4th to get to 81 but the Lakers needed at least 70 of those to win. The rest of the team was 14 of 42. That’s 33%.
The Kobe charge started midway through the 1st quarter when he found his team down 10, 21-11 to a last place team at home. The Raptors had been playing a lot better since their 0-9 start having won 14 of their next 32 games, but this was a Laker team that with Kobe Bryant in the lineup could matchup with anybody. Toronto got off to a furious start. Point guard Mike James was buring 3 point baskets from what seemed like Long Beach and the Raptors as a team were shooting well over 60% from the field. In the mean time, Laker personnel were cold. Nobody could hit water if they fell out of a boat. They were rebounding well though which is always a good sign if you fall behind early.
The deficit ballooned to 14 at the half and 18 three minutes into the 3rd when Toronto was up 71-53. That is when the bleeding stopped. Bryant had 30 points at the time and was shooting magnificently. One could just sense that if the Lakers were going to win, he was going to have to go ballistic, and he did. He scored 8 points in the next 1:02 and finished with 27 in the quarter, outscoring Toronto himself by 5. All of a sudden, the Laker decifit which had been 18 now became a 6 point lead heading into the 4th and final period. It took them 8 minutes and 51 seconds. That’s 24 points differential?!> – –
Earlier in the year, the Pistons had made up 32 points in just under 18 minutes on the road in Chicago, and I thought that was flying, but the Pistons are the defending Eastern Conference champs with arguably the best starting 5 in the league. The Lakers are barely at .500. They barely win as many as they lose. Making up 24 points in just under 9 minutes is some serious break dancing folks. The catalyst of course was Kobe with his 27 quarter points, but the rest of the team followed turning the once scorching Raptor shooters into prehistoric ice fossils. Nine steals and 9 blocked shots for Laker defenders in this win. Without the defense, Kobe may have had to score 100, but it would have been in a losing effort. As fate unfolded, the rest of the team did what they had to do in order to preserve this come from behind victory.
Late in the 4th quarter, the game got out of hand. With 4:52 left and the Lakers up 12, Kobe nailed one of his 7 three point baskets to give him 70 and for all intents and purposes icing the game. Head coach Phil Jackson could have yanked him with the second most recorded points in Laker franchise history, 6th all time, but I think that Coach Jackson felt like he owed it to Kobe to leave him in there and shoot for the moon. He deserved it. He deserved the opportunity to go for history and no matter what anybody says about the final few minutes, it was all about #8 and his leadership guiding the dishevled group to victory on a night when it seemed like they would drop their 3rd in a row. It was a sign of respect. It was a commitment to watching one of the greatest performances in NBA history. I felt the magic just being able to tune in on the television simulcast.
As Kobe soared, the rest of the Laker squad began to follow. The tenacity at the defensive end that had been missing for over a half was now the compliment to Bryant’s onslaught. Eventually, it became the catalyst and the Lakers were flying. Overall though it was just an average win. This is a game they were supposed to have. Losing it would have been devastating. Obviously, Bryant’s 81 are going to put this average affair in the history books but the story that follows should make note of a great leader, a great warrior, willing his troops into battle, lighting the flame in a graveyard and awakening the dead spirits. It was really that kind of effort, and that’s how it should be remembered.