In a career of scoring genius, Kobe Bryant's 81-point game stands alone

Kobe Bryant has been a shell of himself in his final NBA season. His body requires hours of maintenance and treatment just to get ready for a game. When he plays, he's slower. Less explosive. His tired legs leave his jumpers short. 

We do still get glimpses of the legendary scoring touch here and there, though. A fadeaway jumper from the post. The very occasional dunk. A knock-down shot with a hand in his face.

The crowd in every game still anticipates these moments to last much longer. They pay an exorbitant amount to see him play, cheering every time he has the ball. When Bryant is on the bench, they urge Lakers head coach Byron Scott to put him in the game by chanting "K-O-B-E." Everyone wants Bryant to be the Bryant they remember. Time is uncooperative in that way.

Over his 20-year NBA career, Bryant has been a phenomenal scorer. He'll finish his career as the third-leading scorer in NBA history. Since the 2005-2006 season, there have only been eight times when a player has scored 60 or more points in single game. Bryant has accounted for five of those.

This, of course, includes his 81-point game in 2006 against the Raptors. 

Behind Wilt Chamberlain's famous 100-point game, this is the second-highest single-game scoring output in NBA history. It was a remarkable performance. To put it in perspective -- as if you need perspective to appreciate 81 freaking points -- the Lakers as a team scored 81 points last Wednesday against the Clippers. 

Just take three minutes out of your day and revisit Bryant’s performance in that 2006 game. It is breathtaking:

In 42 minutes, Bryant scored those 81 points on 28 of 46 shooting, going 7 for 13 from three and 18 of 20 from the free-throw line. These are amazingly efficient numbers for such a high volume of shots -- 60.9 percent from the field, 53.8 percent from three and 90 percent from the line. Bryant's efficiency over the course of his career has actually been better than some would think.

Also Bryant wasn’t getting much support from his teammates that night. The only other two players to score in double figures for the Lakers were Smush Parker (13 points) and Chris Mihm (12 points). This is one aspect that often gets overlooked when discussing Bryant’s 81-point game. It became a show of its own at some point, but a large part of it was necessary to win the game. 

That season the Lakers finished seventh in the West with a record of 45-37. They were able to push the Phoenix Suns to seven games but got knocked out in the first round. Averaging a league-leading 34.7 points, Bryant literally did everything he could to will the Lakers to victory that season, which is essentially what happened in the 81-point game. 

Toronto was actually leading in the first half, entering the third with a 63-49 lead. Bryant had 26 points in the first half and Toronto’s plan was to basically let him score and defend everyone else because he couldn’t beat them all by himself. Or so they thought.

In the third quarter, Toronto extended its lead to as much as 18, but that’s when Bryant started to cook, scoring 23 of his 27 third-quarter points over a nine-minute stretch. Next thing you knew the Lakers were up six heading into the fourth. Then Kobe kept his foot on the gas, scorching the Raptors for 28 points in the fourth to lead the Lakers to victory.

Kobe’s 81 point game is now a decade in the past and it's hard to envision another player eclipsing that mark. Warriors guard Stephen Curry is probably the one player that could come close. But even Curry thinks that the most he could ever score is 75 points, six points shy of Bryant’s feat. Eighty-one points is that rare of an accomplishment and will be one of the defining moments of Bryant’s long and illustrious career.

Kobe basks in the glory of scoring 81 points.
Kobe basks in the glory of scoring 81 points. (Getty)

CBS Sports Writer

Ananth Pandian has been writing about all NBA-related things including the social and lifestyle aspect of the sport for CBS Sports since 2015. His name is actually easy to pronounce, just remember it is... Full Bio

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