Only Kobe Bryant would try to single-handedly upstage the NFL on Championship Sunday. And get it done.
Kobe makes records wilt
How does one describe Kobe's 81 points?It's the greatest scoring night any of us have ever seen, except for the few among us who were in the arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on March 2, 1962. In other words, it's the best performance in NBA history, except for Wilt's 100. It was 1.7 points per minute, or, in this case, 1.9 points per minute, since Kobe actually sat six minutes against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday in the Lakers' 122-104 come-from-behind win in L.A. It was 66 shots -- 46 field goal attempts and 20 free throw attempts. Of those FGAs, 28 found the net (60.9 percent), including seven of his 13 3-pointers. Eighteen of 20 free throws followed suit. (Yes, Kobe's free throw streak ended -- at 62.) It's this -- 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 3 2 2 1 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 3 2 1 3 2 2 2 1 1 2 2 2 1 1 1 3 3 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1. It's enough to make you wish he'd have had a faster start, instead of "only" 26 in the first half ... to be followed by 27 in the third quarter ... and 28 in the fourth ... picking up speed with all the inevitability of gravity itself, a runaway train, a basketball bouncing down a steep driveway. After the game, Kobe insisted it was "a big win" and said getting the W was the most important thing. Not sure anyone believes that, but it was remarkable how Bryant's scoring affected the game, far more than his usual onslaught. Three minutes into the second half, the Raptors led 71-53. Bryant already had all four of the Lakers' second half points, giving him 30 for the game, but then he cranked it up -- later he would say that he had gone into overdrive because the Lakers were "lethargic," as if he needs a reason. Over the next 80 seconds, he made a basket and two 3s, cutting the 18-point lead to 12. The Lakers and Kobe kept coming and, late in the third quarter, when he stole a pass and tiptoed down the sidelines to get loose for a dunk and make it 87-85, he put Los Angeles up for good. Speaking of getting Los Angeles up, Kobe turned on the Showtime crowd for one of the greatest spontaneous celebrations ever for a single player. For his audience, this was not about beating the Raptors but rather the pinch-me thrill of being in the arena during the greatest individual performance of the past four decades. It was M-V-P! M-V-P! But it was more than that -- it was the growing sound of 18,997 paying customers every time Kobe got the ball, and an expectant whoosh every time he went up to shoot, and a noisy, giddy sigh every time he missed, and a roar every time he made the basket or was fouled. It was the sound of a crowd at the circus, watching the trapeze artists at work, watching the greatest show on earth. And while it's easy to forget when Kobe goes off, especially when the opposing team wears RAPTORS on its chest, this was an NBA team he was doing this to -- a team that was leading the game handily before he really got going. That team, with talented players like Chris Bosh, Jalen Rose and Mike James on the floor, was clearly rattled, or worse. When everyone realized what Kobe was up to, both teams responded emotionally. The Lakers got a charge from Kobe's energy, while the Raptors were both distracted and overwhelmed. After a 63-point first half, they managed only 41 points in the second half, including only three baskets during a decisive nine-minute stretch. A month ago, Lakers coach Phil Jackson (along with Kobe himself) held Bryant out of the fourth quarter, when Kobe had 62 and the Lakers had the game vs. the Mavericks locked up. Jackson was criticized, in the Daily Dime and elsewhere, for his decision. This time, he might have had the same impulse, but he thought better of it. Late in the game, he said later, he told assistant coach Frank Hamblen he would take Kobe out. "I don't think you can," Hamblen replied, according to Jackson. "He has 77 points." And Jackson left Kobe in, until a Toronto turnover with four seconds to play allowed him to remove Kobe for the ovation he deserved and, indeed, even a half-hug from the Zen Master. Jackson did the right thing this time, because Kobe ultimately wasn't playing against the Raptors. He was playing against all the guys who never scored 80, or even 70 -- Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Dominique Wilkins, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Shaquille O'Neal, Jerry West, Karl Malone, Bob McAdoo, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pete Maravich, George Gervin, Bernard King and on and on.
En route to an 81-point performance, Kobe Bryant takes it past Matt Bonner. Bryant's season low this year came against the Raptors, an 11-point night in a 102-91 win in Toronto on Dec. 7.
A scout told me this week that Philly's defensive problems begin with Allen Iverson and end with Chris Webber. He said the fact that A.I. applies no pressure whatsoever when opposing point guards bring the ball up court allows teams to get into their offense too easily.
Then, C-Webb doesn't front the post, so entry passes down low are pudding. Teams can also pick-and-roll C-Webb to death because of his mobility problems. In the middle of the A.I./C-Webb spectrum is Kyle Korver, who gets toasted nightly by whichever two or three-man Andre Iguodala is not guarding.
Time To Tinker Is Gone; Trade O'Neal, Rebuild
Kobe Bryant's 81-point night began with a fairly regular Kobe first half. Then he exploded...
Kobe Second To Wilt
After sending the game into overtime, Ray Allen got the game-winner for the Sonics in a 152-149 win over the Suns in double OT.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
When news of Kobe Bryant's 81 against the Raptors spread through the Rose Garden's visiting locker room, the Mavericks' relief over outlasting the Blazers in overtime was replaced by amazement at Bryant's feat.
Amazement, but by no means shock.
That's because the Mavs saw Kobe score 62 on them just a month ago in 33 minutes of a 112-90 Lakers' rout. Mavs guard Darrell Armstrong stabbed his finger at a partial box score showing Kobe had 41 midway through the third quarter against Toronto.
"Imagine if our game had been close," Armstrong said, suggesting that had Bryant not sat the entire fourth quarter he might've had more than 81 that night.
More than anything, the Mavs were simply curious how Kobe put together the second highest scoring effort in NBA history, eclipsing all except Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game for Philadelphia against the Knicks in 1962. Only coach Avery Johnson showed more interest in the Sonics' 152-149 double overtime win over the Suns, perhaps because the Mavs play in Seattle on Thursday. But while Johnson marveled at the Sonics winning despite only 40 points in the paint and Luke Ridnour getting 30, the rest of the team looked to dissect Bryant's performance.
"How many times did he get to the line?" asked Jerry Stackhouse (a relatively modest 18-of-20).
"How many assists?" asked Keith Van Horn. "He didn't have any against us" (two assists, three turnovers).
"He took 47 shots?" asked Devin Harris (actually, 46, making 28).
Someone asked Dirk Nowitzki if he could top 82. "I don't think that would be good from a team standpoint," Nowitzki said.
Stackhouse finished buttoning his shirt and shook his head in pure admiration. "You'd think the Super Bowl would lead 'SportsCenter' tonight," he said. "But you know it won't. It can't. Kobe will. He has to."
-- Ric Bucher in Portland
The Suns scored 149 points but lost in double overtime to the Sonics on Sunday night, when Ray Allen hit a 35-footer at the buzzer to give Seattle a three-point win. The last team to score as many as 149 points and lose was the Nuggets, in a 161-153 regulation-time defeat at San Antonio in 1990.
It was Phoenix's fourth loss this season in a game of two or more overtimes, an all-time NBA record. Nine teams lost three such games, most recently the Clippers last season.
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If Kings forward Peja Stojakovic were to be traded in midseason, the team that acquired him would also acquire his Larry Bird rights, allowing them to exceed the cap next summer to retain him. Stojakovic was involved in early speculation regarding a Ron Artest deal, but that talk was quickly dismissed by the Kings as baseless. If Sacramento were willing to reconsider, a Stojakovic-Artest trade would still seem to make sense for both teams -- provided the Pacers were confident they could keep Stojakovic after his contract expires.
"I've heard speculation, rumors going around, but it's something we players cannot control," Stojakovic said. "They're going to do what they wish to do. I'm OK right now. We'll see what's going to happen by the trade deadline. I'm not sure with our front office, what changes or not they're going to do."