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Remembering Kobe Bryant's 81, The Greatest Scoring Night in NBA History

The Black Mamba's legendary night is the most impressive scoring outburst in NBA history. Period.

16 years ago, Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in a game. It remains the most impressive scoring outburst in NBA regular-season history. For everyone ready to start barking about Wilt Chamberlain, I'll get there. Before we break it down, here's the video.

Kobe's stat line was 28-46 from the field, including 7-13 from outside, and 18-20 at the free-throw line. I did this from memory if anyone's asking. Bryant's performance becomes the most important and impressive display of scoring in NBA history because there was no stat-chasing. He kept on shooting and scoring because the Lakers were losing. He put the team on his back. 

Game Context

For his reputation as a chucker, Bryant often felt out the game's flow and would start slowly as far as shooting. That said, Bryant's supporting cast did not have a lot of weight, and in every game that season, Bryant had to score. 

At the end of the first quarter, the Lakers were down 36-29. Bryant had 14 points in that first quarter. Bryant upped the effort by scoring 14 of the Lakers' 20 second-quarter points. The Laker defense that night was bad, and they got outscored 27-20 in the second quarter. At halftime, the Raptors had the advantage, 63-49. 

The Lakers were down by 14 points, and Bryant had 26 points.

The third quarter started similarly. The Lakers went down by as much as 18 points early in the quarter but then it all changed. The Lakers outscored the Raptors 44-22, a 20-point margin. Bryant had 27 of those points. The Black Mamba went into berserker mode. He had a staggering 55 second-half points. He outscored the Raptors 55-41 by himself. After being down 18, the Lakers ended up winning by 18 points. Bryant put his team on his shoulders and led them to victory.

Unstoppable

The Raptors could not guard Bryant that night. Nobody could. Jalen Rose, currently an ESPN studio analyst, "guarded" Bryant that night. Over the years, Rose has been candid about his torching. 

“When people try to tease me, I say, ‘We held him under a hundred.'” 

I'm not a martini drinker, but I would definitely order this in front of Jalen Rose.

The Most Impressive Scoring Performance Ever

Let's get it out of the way. Wilt Chamberlain was the absolute man. He scored over 70 points six times. His 100 point game is astounding. Is it as impressive as Bryant's 81? Statistically, I can't argue the point. 100 is more than 81. But...

When Chamberlain scored 100, these things happened.

  1. The Knicks best big-man Phil Jordon was out (with the flu, but teammates say he was hungover)
  2. The Knicks' second-best option was 6’10, Darrall Imhoff, he only played 20 minutes.
  3. Imhoff’s replacement was a 6’9 rookie Cleveland Buckner.

From a piece on Bleacher Report, the entire fourth quarter of Chamberlain's infamous 100 point game had a preposterous ending.

"From accounts of how it went down, the Warriors spent almost the entire fourth quarter fouling to get the ball back and force-feeding Chamberlain the ball." 

Given that statement, the performance of Bryant in a game where the outcome was still competitive to start the fourth quarter makes it more impressive. The Lakers were only up by seven points when the fourth quarter started. Chamberlain's team was up by 19 and was obviously trying to pad Chamberlain's stats. By itself, there is nothing wrong with that. Padding stats can be controversial, but once the game is out of reach, highlighting your teams' best player is perfectly respectable. 

But it does make Kobe Bryant's 81 point game more impressive. Bryant also didn't have a preposterously under-sized roster trying to defend him. Bryant was a 6'6" guard. Morris Peterson started on Kobe Bryant, and Peterson is 6'7". Rose is 6'8". Rose was also an elite talent coming out of college. Bryant's points were all against peers of equal size and skill. 

The Black Mamba

Kobe Bryant tragically left us (along with Gianna and 7 other souls) far too early. What Bryant left on the NBA and the city of LA and its fans can never fully be gauged. His legacy is tremendous. His 81 point performance has not been matched, and nobody has come within 11 points of it since. In the modern era of high-scoring superstar guards, it only makes Bryant's scoring performances more impressive. We miss you, Mamba.