Sunday night, LA Laker Kobe Bryant scored an astronomic 81 points in a 122-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors. Bryant shot 28 for 46, including 55 points in the second half alone.
Bryant’s feat is second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962 drubbing of the New York Knickerbockers, 169-147, in which he scored 100 points. Bryant accomplished this by hitting 18 of his 20 free throws and going 7 for 13 behind the three-point line with two assists.
Even without analysis, Bryant’s 81 would go down as legendary in NBA history, but it’s Kobe’s position that makes it so unbelievable. When Wilt Chamberlain managed to score 100 points, he was being fed the ball in the key where he could take full advantage of his 7’1” height.
It was easier for Wilt to dominate his position due to his size and strength, and therefore more feasible that he could reach 100 in a game. Kobe Bryant plays the swingman position. Michael Jordan has been quoted as saying it’s harder to make a run at 100 being a swingman. Factoring in game fatigue from playing defense and the extra time handling the ball more often and Kobe’s feat becomes even more unbelievable.
The general rule of thumb for an all-star NBA player is to play 40 out of 48 minutes (Kobe played 42 last night). During this time the swingman usually only has the ball for six minutes, with only four of those minutes being in scoring position.
Bryant does have a proclivity for keeping the ball more than your average two-guard. Given this, one can assume Bryant possessed the ball for eight minutes, six of them being in scoring position. By these numbers, with Bryant’s 46 shots, he was shooting the ball every 7.8 seconds that he had it.
To put this into perspective Michael Jordan’s game high came in an overtime victory, in which he tallied 69 points. It’s true that Jordan spread the ball around more and made his teammates better, but 69 was his limit.
But Bryant didn’t do this all on his own. He had the Toronto Raptors to help him. Last time Toronto met the Lakers in December, they managed to hold Bryant to a mere 11 points. The Raptors didn’t fare as well in this meeting. How the Raptors and their coaching staff couldn’t devise and implement a mid-game change to shut down one player reflects terribly on them.
Regardless of the extenuating circumstances, Kobe Bryant’s 81 points will go down as an historic event. If nothing else, it serves as an inspired individual performance. But in its most grandiose interpretations (of which there will be many), it reveals the greatness Bryant is capable of achieving given the right team, a playoff worthy team. Until Bryant has one, 81 will have to suffice.