There were no shortage of highlights from Kobe Bryant throughout his illustrious 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Two that often tend to stand out are when he scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, and when Bryant outscored the Dallas Mavericks through three quarters.
While some point to the two games as the best of Bryant’s career, and in some cases debate which night was more memorable, there’s no doubt for Lakers head coach Luke Walton. “I think probably the 81,” Walton answered when asked which was the superior Bryant performance.
“The Dallas thing was really impressive as well, but the Toronto one, that was back and forth. We were trying to win the game still. To me, it’s more impressive when you’re doing it in a close game. Guys are trying everything they can to stop you, so I’d probably put my vote for the 81-point game.”
Walton had an up-close look at Bryant in both games, as he was in his third season with the Lakers. But although Walton gave the nod to the second-highest scoring game by an individual in NBA history, the magnitude of Bryant’s accomplishment didn’t dawn on him until after the fact.
“Honestly, I didn’t even realize what was happening. You’re playing in the game and you’re just trying to win at that point,” Walton explained.
“I remember looking at the stat sheet afterwards and just thinking how crazy it was that it literally said ’81’ next to his name. I went home and watched the game. I just remember being in awe, watching it after it had happened.
“I brought the ticket to the practice the next day and had him sign it like I was one of the fans. I didn’t even realize the greatness that was going on until after the game had ended.”
Remarkably, Bryant’s prolific scoring outbursts were merely separated by one month. He torched the Mavericks on Dec. 20, 2005, and followed suit against the Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006. Both games were played at Staples Center.
When Bryant sat at the start of the fourth quarter against the Mavericks, the Lakers held a 95-61 lead. They went on for a 112-90 victory, with Bryant not needed for a single second in the fourth quarter.
As Walton noted, the Lakers needed every bit of Bryant’s heroics against the Raptors. They trailed by 14 points at halftime and fell behind as many as 18 points in the third quarter. Bryant scored 55 of his 81 points in the second half.
At the time still in college, Corey Brewer recalled being amazed at what Bryant had accomplished. It’s a feat Brewer does not anticipate is matched or surpassed any time soon. “It’s hard to score 20 points in the NBA, let alone 81,” he said.
“It’s going to be a long time until somebody scores 81. Unless somebody really, really gets hot.”
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