On Jan. 22, 2006, Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant shocked the league and scored 81 points in a 122-104 win over the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center, marking the second-highest scoring total in a game in NBA history.
Ten years later, his total still stands at No. 2 behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, and is arguably even more impressive nowadays.
For as historically great as scorers like LeBron James and Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have been in recent years, none have come close to matching or surpassing Bryant’s 81 points. Since the 2005-06 season, there have only been six games in which a player scored 60 or more points — and Bryant has half of them (James, Carmelo Anthony and Gilbert Arenas each have one).
It’s bizarre to look at a box score and see 81 in the point column. But that isn’t the only number that stands out. Context is needed to explain Bryant’s performance, as well as how the Lakers turned an 18-point second-half deficit into an 18-point victory.
While Bryant went 28 of 46 from the field (60.3 percent), the rest of the Lakers went just 14 of 42 (33.3 percent). Only two other players scored in double figures: Smush Parker (13 points) and Chris Mihm (12 points). Three Lakers — Devean George, Luke Walton and Devin Green — didn’t score at all, though Green only played four seconds.
“Putting the team on his back” is one of the most misused cliches, but Bryant’s performance against the Raptors is an exception.
Bryant’s 60.9 percent shooting on 46 field-goal attempts was his best shooting performance in a game in which he attempted 35 or more field goals (he’s had an astounding 29 such games).
Arguably the biggest knock on Bryant throughout his career has been his inefficiency, but this was far from the case against Toronto. With the way he was shooting — and with how poorly his teammates were playing — Bryant probably should’ve shot more, to be honest.
11 field-goal attempts
Similar to the chicken-or-the-egg argument, one has to wonder if Bryant’s teammates ever had a chance to get into rhythm with him hijacking possessions so frequently. No other Lakers player took more than 11 shots, a 35 field-goal attempt difference. Only Parker and Mihm made more than one shot.
With that said, Bryant sat out the first six minutes of the second quarter and the Lakers’ deficit increased from seven to 12 points, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing that he took 52.3 percent of the team’s shots.
The second-leading scorer in the game behind Bryant was none other than the Raptors’ Mike James. James lit up the Lakers’ point guard tandem of Parker and Sasha Vujacic for 26 points and 10 assists.
That wasn’t uncharacteristic for him given that he averaged 20.3 points per game that season, but it’s just funny that the journeyman — James played for 11 teams in 12 seasons — was the second-most productive player in such a historic game.
Plus-24 rebounding advantage
The Lakers crushed the Raptors on the boards 51-27, which included an 18-4 advantage on the offensive glass that allowed Los Angeles to get up 12 more shots than Toronto.
Perhaps no number outside of 81 points determined the final score of the game more. L.A.’s giant frontcourt of Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown and Mihm each collected at least eight rebounds, pounding the finesse trio of Chris Bosh, Matt Bonner and Charlie Villanueva.
35.7 percent assisted
Bryant was assisted on 10 of his 28 field goals (35.7 percent), which was actually lower than his season average (43.8 percent assisted). He isolated more as the game went on, and was only assisted on one of his seven fourth-quarter makes.
Despite the Lakers basically clinching the win midway through the fourth, Bryant kept shooting. He single-handedly put the Raptors starting five in foul trouble, forcing three starters to pick up at least five fouls. Toronto couldn’t stop fouling him in the fourth, as Bryant went 12 for 12 from the charity stripe on his way to 28 fourth-quarter points.
Plus-18 margin of victory
This was an odd game. The Raptors jumped out to a 21-11 lead and kept getting better, leading 63-49 at intermission. They made seven of their 10 3-pointers in the first half, and held Bryant to “only” 26 points. Things looked even at the beginning second half, as they quickly bumped their lead up to 18 points within three minutes.
And then the Black Mamba broke loose. Bryant scored 23 points over the final nine minutes (and 28 in the quarter overall) to put the Lakers up by six heading into the final frame. From there, Bryant continued to scorch the Raptors, and the outcome of the game took a back seat to his historical night.
Jovan Buha covers the NBA for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jovanbuha.