Kobe Bryant’s 81-Point Game Wasn’t As Incredible As I Like To Pretend It Was
January 22nd, 2006: a date that will live in infamy for Raptors fans. If you happen to be one of those, and the thought of reliving that fateful night is too much to bear, now is your chance to close this browser tab and navigate over to something more uplifting. Perhaps you can watch Vince Carter's elbow dunk for the 97,000th time, or grab a Timmy Horton's breakfast sandwich and stare blankly into space.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of Kobe Bryant's 81-point offensive explosion -- the NBA's individual single-game scoring record, at least for those of you who don't believe Wilt Chamberlain dropped 100 on the New York Knicks in a game that, for some reason, was not filmed. Anyone can hold up a piece of paper that says "100" on it. Watch:
Just scored 100 points in an NBA game. Need proof? Here: pic.twitter.com/kFU4pqDYkO
— Jake O'Donnell (@_JakeODonnell) January 22, 2016
For the vast majority of the basketball universe, however, Kobe's 81 ranks second -- though one could argue that doing it as a shooting guard in the modern NBA is more impressive than Wilt manhandling defenders seven inches shorter than him, but once again, we don't have video so it's difficult comparing the two. We do have the boxscores, however, which highlight a similarity that makes both games appear less amazing than they seem: Kobe and Wilt shot a shit-ton of free throws. Like, so many that it kind of makes their respective historic achievements seem, I dunno, less historic.
Wilt hit 28 of 32; Kobe hit 18 of 20.
Listen, I'm not saying Kobe Bryant scoring 81 points in 41 minutes isn't extraordinary, it's just not as extraordinary as we may want to remember. He took 46 shots for Christ's sake. He was guarded by the 6'2" Mike James all game. He barely saw any double-teams. The basic gist of Raptors' head coach Sam Mitchell's game plan was "let Kobe try to score 81 points and we'll score 82." I'm not trying to take anything away from Kobe's accomplishment, I'm just saying if you go back and look at the highlights (bottom of the page) and the numbers (below), you'll see it wasn't the act of God that we tell our children it was.
Don't get me wrong, Kobe's 81 was the best individual performance in NBA history. His shot chart from that night is mind-boggling...
Oh wait, there seems to have been a mixup. That shot chart was from Carmelo Anthony's 62-point game almost exactly eight years after Kobe's 81. (Melo actually took 11 fewer shots and 10 fewer free throws in three fewer minutes than Kobe.) Here's Kobe's shot chart from that night. Is this what you expected it to look like?
Even though I know how blasphemous I sound, I'm not trying to be a hater here. I'm trying to be realistic, because I was surprised that the highlights from such an iconic performance felt so, I dunno, boring. Ridiculous, yes, but ridiculous for multiple reasons, many of which were beyond Kobe's control. Lots of matador defense. Lots of uncontested layups. It certainly didn't look the way my memory has been telling me for the last decade.
Is this the game you remember?
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