After scoring 81 points on Jan. of 2006, nothing Bryant does when it comes to putting the ball into the hole surprises anyone. Still, Bryant's epic 61-point performance in the Lakers' 126-117 win on Monday, the most points by a Knick or a Knicks opponent in this current iteration of Madison Square Garden, was a bracing reminder of how brilliant Bryant can be when the lights shine brightest.
He was better than Michael Jordan's 55 in March of 1995, the old record for an opponent. He was better than Bernard King's 60 against the Nets on Christmas in 1984. His 20-for-20 performance from the line on Monday was second only to Dominique Wilkins, who sank all 23 of his freebies against the Bulls in Dec. 1992.
Throughout the game, a considerable Lakers contingent started to chant "M-V-P" whenever Bryant went to the free throw line. As the chants for MVP grew louder, the Knicks fans tried to drown out the chant with boos. Much like the Knicks' defense most of the evening, the boos often came too late.
When Bryant came off the floor with 1:48 left in the game, half of the Garden crowd who had been booing joined the Lakers' fans and rose to its feet to give Bryant a lusty ovation.
"This place is special because the fans will boo you the whole game," Bryant said, "but they appreciate the game, and tonight it felt great to get that reaction from these fans.
"It's them saying we love what you do and it's a great performance and we're going to celebrate that moment. It felt great."
It was a stark contrast to how the Lakers felt earlier today. Bryant's performance was a boost for the Lakers, who received news on Monday that starting center Andrew Bynum would miss eight to 12 weeks with a torn MCL in his right knee. It was Bryant who crashed into Bynum's knee on Saturday, causing the injury.
"Before the game, I noticed his mood was very determined and somber," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "
With Bynum out, the Lakers started Odom and moved Pau Gasol to center. Before the game, an NBA scout said the Lakers did well without Bynum last season and he didn't see Kobe becoming more like the "old Kobe" who shot every chance he got. But on Monday, Kobe started hot before the game and stayed hot during it.
"I felt great in shootaround and had a good rhythm," Bryant said. "It felt good and from that point you just want to stay in it."
At the end the first, Bryant had 18. By the half, Bryant had 34 points and was within 21points of Jordan's record and 26 of King's. Neither Jackson, who coached the Bulls when Jordan set his mark, nor Bryant knew the records were within reach.
"Michael was coming off a year-and-a-half off," Jackson said. "I don't know if that was his third game back. He wasn't totally himself as a player yet. We just stuck him in the post in that particular night. I don't know if he got any threes like Kobe did tonight. He was just posting up and working it.
"Of course, it was a totally different Knicks team than at this particular time. Both were remarkable performances, but I was surprised it was a Garden record."
What wasn't surprising was Bryant's ability to find any motivation to play well.
"It was a combination of things," Kobe said. "[Bynum] going down. This being the hump game, I felt I needed to focus even more than usual and try to stay in that pocket.
Edited by TheAssassin611, February 03, 2009 - 04:26 AM.