Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant's 81 and His 20 Greatest NBA Performances
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has an ever-growing list of great performances over his now 15-year career. But some stand out above and beyond the normal, everyday, heroic efforts of this future Hall of Fame guard.
Whether you love Kobe or despise him, there is no denying he has had some of the more memorable performances in NBA history.
He's been able to do it as a young rising star during his duo days with Shaquille O'Neal. And he's been creating masterpieces as a savvy vet, returning to the mountaintop with two-straight NBA titles.
So what are Kobe's greatest performances? And, what is the criteria?
Well, to really transcend and standout, the key factors are:
Whether regular season or playoffs, some of Kobe’s performances simply are memorable, burned into every fan’s memory. You know the ones. These are the games we talk about not just days and weeks, but years afterward.
Some of Kobe’s top games are ones that were timely, a game that demanded a great performance. Whether the Lakers needed a victory, say for the playoffs, or Kobe was required to hit a winning shot at the buzzer, Kobe delivered. That's why he's known as one of the game's greatest closers.
All the greats give great performances when the games matter most. No different for Kobe.
While not every game's performance was all about Kobe putting up unreal numbers, it is certainly a factor.
So get ready. There's going to be little arguing on these games I'm about to hit you with.
Here are Kobe Bryant’s 20 greatest NBA performances.
20. May 29, 2008: Kobe Scores 39 and Closes out the San Antonio Spurs
Kobe scores 39 and closes out the San Antonio Spurs to return to the NBA Finals for the first time without Shaq: Los Angeles Lakers 100, San Antonio Spurs 92.
Lakers took the series 4-1.
19. Kobe's 56 in Three Quarters Vs. Memphis: January 14, 2002
This game came four years before his famous 81 pointer versus Toronto, and came during the time when Kobe still played with Shaq.
That's why Kobe's performance in this game gets overlooked and forgotten, as that run leading up to the 81 is what is often remembered. But Kobe scored 56 points in only 34 minutes in this one. And Shaq was still on his team. Amazing.
Think about this. If Kobe had played any of the fourth quarter in this one, this would have been another game when he would have pushed it to 70 or possibly even 80.
18. Kobe Vs. Michael Jordan: December 17, 1997
Kobe was still coming off the bench this early in his career. And MJ was standing atop the NBA, in his last season approaching a second three-peat and retirement.
But Kobe came to play for this game and racked up 33 points to MJ's 36.
If you want to look to a game when the baton was passed, this was it. MJ even was seen late in the game giving pointers to Kobe on his patented fade-away.
I'll call this one "The heir to the heir apparent."
17. Kobe's 55 Vs. MJ: March 28, 2003
Kobe's last game versus Michael Jordan was his best against Air Jordan. That's why this final meeting of these two players would leave MJ remembering Kobe.
In this game, Kobe set the Lakers' team record for points in a half with 42, beating Elgin Baylor's 37.
Kobe was on fire throughout this game, hitting shots from massive distances.
A famous quote from this game comes from head coach Phil Jackson, who said afterward: "It came to a point where there was that curiosity factor: Was he going to hit 80?”
Three years later and Jackson's prophecy would come true when Kobe went for 81. Did the Zen Master have a vision? Should we now call Jackson the Zen Psychic?
16. 52 Points Vs. Rockets in Double OT: February 18, 2003
This game was part of Kobe's amazing 40-plus nine-game scoring streak in 2003.
In this one, the Lakers met Yao Ming and the Rockets without Shaq. And Kobe even came into this one banged up, with a hurt right knee.
It wouldn't matter.
This one went to OT with Kobe going for 52, including a posterizing dunk over Yao in a Lakers win.
15. Kobe's 12 Threes Vs. Seattle: January 7, 2003
The rain kept falling against the Seattle Sonics in this one.
Kobe broke the NBA's existing record for made threes in this one with 12. He also hit a record nine straight without a miss. Amazing.
14. Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals
This is the game that basically started it all for the the Kobe/Shaq Lakers. LA came back from 15 points down in the final 10 minutes to take this one from Portland.
The memorable play from this one was Kobe's alley-oop to Shaq. But Kobe was clutch the entire comeback run.
Kobe ended the game with 25 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks.
This was the beginning of the Lakers' three-peat run.
13. Kobe's 65 Vs. Portland: March 16, 2007
The Lakers came into this one with a seven-game losing streak, the longest of head coach Phil Jackson's career. LA desperately needed a victory. And Kobe would make that happen.
This game would also start a four-game 50-point streak for Kobe, something only Wilt Chamberlain had done before (not even MJ can say that).
In this one, Kobe hit from all over, including going 8-for-12 from long distance. He carried LA to a much needed OT win.
12. Los Angeles Lakers Vs. Portland TrailBlazers: April 14, 2004
This game is both memorable and important. The victory on the last day of the regular season clinched the Pacific Division for LA. But it wouldn't be easy.
The game went into double OT. Kobe hit a shot to force OT and then made a three-pointer for the win. He finished this one with 37.
11. Los Angeles Lakers Vs. Dallas Mavericks: December 6, 2002
Kobe put up a 21-point fourth quarter in a Lakers comeback in a game that looked over.
That's because Dallas had held a 27-point lead, but it wasn't enough against the Lakers and Kobe.
LA pulled out the victory, riding Kobe's fourth-quarter performance to win 105-103 in what many feel is the greatest comeback game in NBA history.
10. Western Conference Semis: Los Angeles Lakers Vs. Sacramento: May 13, 2001
The Lakers and Kobe rolled through the 2001 playoffs, finishing with one of the most impressive playoff runs of 15-1 for a repeat NBA title.
In this one, Kobe scored 48 and also had 16 boards in one of his best playoff games ever, especially early in his career.
And it was extra special because it came at the hands of the Lakers' bitter Western Conference rival, the Kings.
9. No Shaq, No Problem: Kobe Carries Lakers Without Shaq In Game 4, 2000 Finals
No Shaq, no problem.
In the 2000 NBA Finals, Kobe injured his ankle in Game 2, even though LA won, taking a 2-0 series lead over the Indiana Pacers.
Kobe missed Game 3, which the Indiana Pacers took.
For Game 4, Shaq fouled out with 2:33 in OT and even though hobbled with the ankle injury, Kobe carried the Lakers to the victory. He scored eight points in OT, including a key put-back to seal the deal.
This wasn't quite on the level of when Michael Jordan played in the NBA Finals with the flu, but given the injury to Kobe's ankle, this one was equally impressive and important.
8. Los Angeles Lakers Vs. Denver Nuggets: April 23, 2008
This game marks one of Kobe’s all-time greatest playoff performances. He scored 49 points while playing 42 minutes, he had four rebounds and 10 assists.
Oh yeah, and the Lakers beat the Nuggets.
7. May 19, 2001: Western Conference Finals: Lakers Vs. Spurs
Kobe scores 45 in the opener as LA destroys the Spurs 104-90 and makes quick work of San Antonio, taking the series in a sweep.
This playoff run found Kobe and the Lakers playing their best of the entire Shaq/Kobe partnership and much of the 2001 playoff success of 15-1 is because of Kobe's high-level of play.
6. NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers Vs. Orlando Magic: June 4, 2009
In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Kobe scored 40 in the opening game in LA to lead the Lakers to a 100-75 stunner, setting the tone for the entire series that LA would win in five.
Kobe's second NBA Finals in a row would prove to be the one in which he finally got that big, and I mean big, monkey off his back. Kobe would win a ring without Shaq, forever putting to rest the question of whether he could win without the Big Daddy.
5. Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals In 2010: Lakers Vs. Suns
In the all-important close-out game, Kobe scored 37 and controlled the Suns as LA won Game 6 and propelled them to the NBA Finals.
And by the way, Kobe had a laundry list of physical injuries including his messed-up finger and a bad knee that would require surgery in the offseason.
Head coach Phil Jackson was recently quoted saying: "It is amazing we won the title with the injuries Kobe had."
That's because the warrior Kobe Bryant played through his physical ailments and carried his team to a second NBA title in a row.
4. The "What If" Game: Lakers Vs. Dallas Mavericks: December 20, 2005
This game goes down as one of those “what if” ones.
Kobe blistered Dallas every which way for 62 points in only three quarters. This raised the real question:
What if he had played the fourth?
What’s also amazing about this game is Kobe went 22-of-25 from the line. Think about that: 25 foul shots in three quarters.
What if he had played the fourth and remained aggressive?
He surely would have been to the line countless times in the final quarter and had Dallas in massive foul trouble.
By the way, this was an LA blowout and the main reason why Kobe sat out the fourth.
3. 2006 NBA Playoffs First Round, Game 4: Los Angeles Lakers Vs. Phoenix Suns
The Lakers were not a great team in 2006, which makes Kobe’s performance all the more amazing in this one.
In this matchup, Kobe hit not one but two buzzer beaters to take out the favored Suns and give the Lakers a 3-1 series lead (LA would eventually fold and allow the Suns to win Game 7 unfortunately).
But in Game 4, the Lakers were down by two with eight seconds remaining and the Suns had the ball. However, Smush Parker deflected the inbound pass, the Lakers got the ball to Kobe and he made a layup to force OT.
In the extra period, Kobe snatched the ball off of a tip-off with six seconds remaining. He drove down the court and pulled up from the right side near the elbow and swished the shot to take the victory in OT.
Every Lakers fan remembers how thrilling this ending was. Do you?
2. Kobe Scores a Record 61 in MSG: Lakers Vs. Knicks: 2010
In New York City, at the most famous arena in all of basketball, Kobe went off for 61, breaking the scoring record at MSG and also surpassing MJ’s 55.
This was a blowout and a beat down versus a New York Knicks team that played defense like a bullfighter.
And, as a side note, detractors still say Kobe lost it. But this was 2010. Doesn't look like it to me.
1. Kobe Scores 81 Vs. Toronto: 2006
I watched this game live in 2006 and while Kobe was going off, scoring countless ways, it really didn’t hit home that he was heading into rarefied air until the start of the fourth quarter.
That was when I realized that this was going to be what could have happened if he had played the fourth quarter in the Dallas game when he had 62 points in three quarters.
In this game against a weak Toronto defense, what people really forget is that Kobe’s scoring spree really came from his deep, I mean deep, desire to win this game. The Lakers began the game poorly and were down big. Kobe’s relentless drive fueled both his scoring output and the Lakers victory.
This one not only ranks as Kobe’s greatest performance, but I feel it is the greatest scoring performance in all of NBA history.
Kobe scored 81 points as a perimeter player, not a big down low as Wilt Chamberlain had done when he went for 100 points. And Kobe scored 81 in the modern era in which the skill level of even the worst NBA bench player far exceeded Wilt’s time.
This game was amazing when it happened and I recently watched the five-year anniversary a few weeks ago, and the game and Kobe’s performance was just as good.
Like a fine wine, the 81-point game only gets better with age.
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