February 02, 2009
The Lakers' Kobe Bryant went off to the tune of 61 points against the Knicks on Monday, topping Michael Jordan's nearly 14-year old Madison Square Garden record for points scored by an opposing player against the hometown Knicks.
Bryant was unconscious early, potent toward the middle, and crafty late. The 2008 MVP was at his best, expertly mixing well-executed drives and leaning finishes with turnaround jumpers, pull-ups, long-range sweetness (3-for-6 from behind the arc), and a nearly record-setting 20-20 mark from the free-throw line. The perfect batch of freebies nearly broke Dominique Wilkins' record 23-for-23 performance from the charity stripe in 1992.
And despite what may have seemed like an easy (126-117) win, a good chunk of these points were needed. We'll have more on the Knicks/Lakers game in Tuesday morning's Behind the Box Score, but it was Kobe's hot hand that kept an active and insistent Knicks team at bay for the first three quarters.
Topping that, with Lakers center Andrew Bynum likely out until the start of the playoffs with a torn MCL, Bryant's teammates may have moped into the Garden, prime for an upset. But with Kobe tearing it up early, his teammates got the idea. No letdown, no moping, no losing.
If we're honest, none of Bryant's 15 fourth-quarter points were needed, as the Lakers were well ahead when he re-entered the game with eight minutes to play, and some of his "reverse pivot" (if you can call it that) spinning jumpers were out-and-out travels (he picks up his pivot foot before planting and jumping with the other foot), but this is minor quibbling.
Bryant (and coach Laker Phil Jackson) both own a strong sense of history, and it was obvious that both of them wanted to send a message to the rest of the league about their team's supposed vulnerability.
We got it, loud and clear. A brilliant night for a sublime player.