Friday is the 10th anniversary of one of the greatest individual performances in NBA history. But was it Kobe Bryant’s best game ever? Here’s our top 10, and at least one of them will come as a fairly big surprise.
10. 65 points against the Blazers in 2007
The Lakers had dropped seven straight games coming into this one, and even with 65 points from Kobe, LA needed overtime to snap the streak. But this was a classic outburst from Bryant, who did everything in his power to make sure that, at least for one night, the losing stopped.
9. 48 points, 16 rebounds against the Kings in Game 4 of the 2001 playoffs
The 2001 Lakers were by far the most dominant of Kobe’s championship teams. L.A. only lost one game that entire postseason (Game 1 of the Finals against the Sixers), and this particular performance from Bryant against Sacramento, where he finished with 48 points and 16 rebounds in Game 4 of a second-round matchup to complete the series sweep, might have been his best in those playoffs.
8. 37 points, two incredibly clutch shots to the beat Blazers to end the 2004 regular season
The Lakers needed to win this game to secure a division title, and the three-pointer Kobe hit to send the game to overtime was among the craziest of his career. At the end of the second overtime, he hit another one at the buzzer to give the Lakers the most improbable of victories. Bryant finished with 37 points in 53 minutes, but it’s these two shots that made it such an incredible performance.
7. 61 points vs. the Knicks in 2009
Kobe set what was at the time the single-game record for most points scored at Madison Square Garden and finished with 61 on 19-of-31 shooting in 37 minutes of action.
6. 55 in Kobe’s last game vs. Michael Jordan in 2003
It’s no secret that Bryant idolized Michael Jordan growing up and that he worked very hard to model his game after Jordan’s in every way possible. It’s not surprising, then, that Kobe would want to show Jordan all that he had become when he faced him on the court for the final time in March 2003. Bryant finished with 55 points on 15-of-29 shooting, to go along with five rebounds, three assists and thee steals. Jordan had a tidy 20 points on 10 shots in 41 minutes of action, and the Lakers ended up winning by a comfortable 14 points.
5. 62 points through three quarters vs. the Mavericks in 2005
This was one of the most transcendent scoring performances that we’re likely to ever see. Bryant scored 62 points on 18-of-32 shooting in just 33 minutes, and he could have had even more if he had played any of the fourth quarter, which was completely unnecessary since L.A. led after three by a ridiculous 34 points.
4. Saving the Lakers in OT while coming off a major ankle sprain in Game 4 of the 2000 Finals
After missing Game 3, Bryant was back for Game 4, but it was unclear how the ankle would respond. In a game that went to overtime and saw Shaquille O’Neal foul out with the Lakers clinging to a one-point lead with 2:21 left, Bryant hit tough jumpers on consecutive possessions and tipped in a missed shot from Brian Shaw with five seconds left that ended up sealing the victory and giving the Lakers a commanding 3-1 series lead they would never relinquish.
If you encounter someone who wants to have the “Kobe is not clutch” discussion, then this is the video clip you can show them as Exhibit A of why that’s ridiculous. Bryant made two incredible shots to give his team a 3-1 lead in a first-round playoff series against the Suns. Even though the talent disparity eventually caught up with the Lakers as the Suns won the series in seven games, Bryant’s heroics in dragging a team that featured Smush Parker and Kwame Brown in its starting lineup to the playoffs should not go unnoticed.
2. Slugging it out in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals
Celtics fans like to point out that Kobe shot 6-for-24 from the field in a championship game, as if Bryant would somehow give the ring back if only he could have had a higher point total or been more efficient. The reality is that this was a slugfest that featured both teams shooting a low percentage. Bryant’s relentless attacking (which earned him nine fourth-quarter free throw attempts) along with his attention to rebounding in the second half were keys in winning the fifth and final championship of his storied career.
1. 81 points vs. the Raptors 10 years ago Friday
This is the game. Second in total points to only the mythical 100 scored by Wilt Chamberlain in NBA history. Bryant’s unparalleled ability to score — combined with the fact that he was playing with guys like Parker, Brown, Chris Mihm and Devean George — created a perfect storm in which it seemed completely reasonable for Bryant to launch a preposterous 46 shots.