Ranking Kobe Bryant's best games against every NBA team
Kobe Bryant has used the 2015-16 season as his farewell tour. With few games left in his Lakers career, we rank his best games against the Association's other 29 teams.
Kobe Bryant's NBA career can vote. It can smoke. We can send it to war. Kobe Bryant has been in the NBA for 20 seasons, enough time for many adult fans to have never known a league without him. That includes rookies Devin Booker and Rashad Vaughn, who were both born after Kobe was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets on June 26, 1996.
In that time, Kobe Bryant has played in over 1,300 games, poured in over 30,000 points, and played in seven NBA Finals series. He's a player who starred in three separate decades, and has left his indelible mark on all three.
What's been so fascinating about this final farewell season has been the outpouring of love and support for a player who spent most of his career feared and often hated. Even in places like Phoenix and Sacramento and San Antonio, opposing fans and players have fawned over Kobe. LeBron James even asked Kobe to sign his shoes.
Nobody was happy to play him, but now everyone is sad to see him go. Going through his history, we take a look at the best games of Kobe's career, team by team. And for that, we start in the Midwest.
29. Kobe v. Bucks, March 24, 2006
43 points (12-26 FG), 5-10 3-pt FG, 14-14 FT
This ought to give you a sense of what's in store. Not only did Kobe crack 40 points, he was perfect from the stripe, drained five 3-pointers, and put the game away with six clutch free throws in the closing seconds. And there are 28 games that are better than this.
Mind you this isn't a ranking of Kobe Bryant's 29 best games, a list that would yield even more impressive results compared to this. No, this exercise is limited to one example per opponent.
This game has some trademark elements to which you, the reader, should gain some familiarity:
- Points will come in spurts, like how five of Kobe's first six buckets were his five 3-pointers.
- Teammates will under-perform, like how the Lakers shot only 42.9% from the floor thanks largely to Brian Cook (1-8) and Luke Walton (1-5).
- Opposing coaches will not attempt to justify a method to stop Kobe. Take Terry Stotts:
"Kobe had a terrific game," Bucks coach Terry Stotts said. "We probably did a good job on him, actually — after the way he started off. He made his foul shots down the stretch, but for 2 1-2 quarters, we did as good a job as you could ask for."
Exasperation will be a motif for both Kobe and his opponents. Games where Kobe takes over tend to be the result of necessity on his part, and when his shots hit there's nothing a defense can do.
28. Kobe v. Hawks, November 1, 2009
41 points (15-29 FG), 8 rebounds, 5 steals, 10-11 FT
This was the Lakers' third game back as defending champions, having soundly beaten the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals. For the first time, Kobe Bryant entered an NBA regular season as the sole leader of a championship team, and the pressure to propel his team to a Finals victory was lessened.
It should be no surprise that Kobe did not rest on his laurels. Three games in, it became apparent that the Lakers were even better than before. Along with pouring in 41, Kobe's intensity translated to his defense, where he recorded 5 steals and 5 defensive rebounds.
One reason this performance is placed here near the beginning of the list is that Kobe was overshadowed by a new teammate, Ron Artest. Kobe himself admitted as much.
"We picked up our intensity, and it all started with No. 37," Bryant said of Artest. "He picked up the energy level defensively, and I told him the game was on him. I felt like the energy really changed the whole complexity of the game, and we all kind of rallied behind him."
Bryant's tendency to antagonize his under-performing teammates is well-known; but, particularly later in his career, he would just as likely praise his valuable teammates. At the time Artest was one of the game's premier defensive stoppers at the wing, and he shut down the Hawks' Joe Johnson following a first quarter explosion. After dropping 18 in the first period, Johnson was limited to 9 points the rest of the way, allowing the Lakers to run away behind Kobe's scoring.
27. Kobe v. Pistons, November 17, 2009
40 points (17-29 FG), 5 rebounds, 5 assists
Sixteen days later, the Lakers hosted Detroit at the Staples Center. Unlike most teams, Kobe's career against Detroit has been marked with bad memories, namely the embarrassing 2004 NBA Finals when the Pistons thoroughly outplayed and out-rebounded a Lakers team that included Kobe, Shaq, Karl Malone and Gary Payton.
The 2009-10 season brings much fonder memories for Kobe, including this game where the Lakers' starters outscored the Pistons' starters 76-41. And notably, this was the 100th time Kobe Bryant scored at least 40 points in a game.
There have been only two other players who have hit the 40-point mark over 100 times: Wilt Chamberlain had done so an absurd 271 times, quite impressive but undoubtedly a product of a time when Wilt's physical advantages and the pace of the game inflated his statistics; Michael Jordan racked up 173 games of at least 40 points, providing the model for Kobe's career as a shooting guard.
Amazingly enough, Kobe Bryant has scored at least 40 on every other franchise in the NBA. This takes into account a time before the New Orleans Hornets became the Pelicans, the Charlotte Bobcats became the new Hornets and the Seattle SuperSonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder, but that statistic is still so very impressive.
26. Kobe v. Celtics, June 17, 2010 (NBA Finals)
23 points (6-24 FG), 15 rebounds in clinching Game 7
There was a very strong consideration here for Kobe's game against the Celtics on March 20, 2006, when he scored 43 (on 18-39 shooting) and recorded 5 steals. Either I choose ...
a) ... a classic 40+ point Kobe performance, but one that is fairly pedestrian for this list and that happened in a meaningless late-season matchup
b) ... an objectively bad and inefficient offensive game, but one that was paired with a gritty performance in other aspects, included clutch free throws and happened on the biggest stage of Kobe's career.
I chose to go with the latter. Bryant was able to nail down a victory over the Celtics, redeeming his loss to the team two years earlier in the NBA Finals. Game Sevens tend to be grinding, physical contests, and Kobe's defense was just as good as his offense was bad. He limited Ray Allen to 13 points on 3-14 shooting, and pulled down 11 defensive rebounds from the shooting guard position.
Amazingly enough, he still led all scorers with 23 points. And even though the Lakers were outshot 40%-32% (yeesh), Los Angeles was able to win the rebounding battle 53-40 thanks largely to Kobe and Pau Gasol.
25. Kobe v. Bulls, December 15, 2009
42 points (15-26 FG) with a broken finger
It was tempting to mention Kobe's final game against the Bulls – a 126-115 Chicago victory on February 21st played at the United Center – as his best game vs. Chicago simply because it was going to be the farewell between him and Pau Gasol.
Gasol was Kobe's best teammate that he actually liked, so this would be the heartfelt farewell that would be the most significant. Folks weren't tuning into the March 13th Lakers-Knicks game to see Kobe say farewell to Sasha Vujacic, so that Bulls was quite weighty.
BUT, Kobe finished that game with a ho-hum 22 points, far less impressive on the court than his performance in 2009. In that game Kobe wore a finger splint, having injured the index finger of his shooting hand. This was following the Lakers' Finals win over the Orlando Magic (and right before the team's win over the Celtics), but the Bulls were an emerging team themselves, in their final season under the shadow of head coach Vinnie Del Negro.
It didn't matter; Kobe was playing at a different speed. Understand how good this game was, then think how we're still in the first third of this list.
24. Kobe v. Pacers, January 9, 2006
45 points (14-32 FG), 10 rebounds, 5 assists
Kobe's most notable matchup with the Pacers was his first NBA Finals victory, happening during the Lakers' great 1999-00 season.
However, in that series Kobe took a back seat to eventual series MVP Shaquille O'Neal, scoring only 15.6 points per game, shooting 36.7% from the field and failing to contain Pacers shooting guard Reggie Miller. The Lakers won in six largely on the back of Shaq, who posted 38 points and 16.7 rebounds per game, shooting 61% from the field and giving the Lakers a much-needed offensive boost.
Instead, we turn to Kobe and the Lakers post-Shaq. This game was Kobe's fourth consecutive where he scored at least 45. No other player had done that in NBA history since Wilt Chamberlain in 1964. It was good that he did; outside of his 45, the only other player to crack double-digits for the Lakers was Lamar Odom with 17.
Of course Kobe got 17 in the fourth quarter alone, closing off a victory for a Lakers team who, at that point in the season, was struggling to go beyond mediocrity.
23. Kobe v. Cavaliers, January 30, 2001
47 points (12-26 FG), 23-26 FT
Kobe has been around for so long that this game was two uniform redesigns ago for the Cavaliers. Way back when, in the late 90s and early 00s, the Cleveland Cavaliers wore uniforms with periwinkle lettering and a basketball logo from Corel Gallery Magic 65K clipart.
This was in the era in Cleveland where you could snap a candid photo of Andre Miller doing what he loves most with his free time: casually leaning up against the Gund Arena with a basketball.
At 20-23 and going up against a team gunning for its third straight championship, the middling Cavs must have felt blessed when they heard that Shaquille O'Neal would be missing his second straight game with an injured foot. Unfortunately, Kobe Bryant was also feeling blessed; he could now show his abilities away from Shaq's large 7-foot shadow.
Bryant did nearly half of his damage with free throws, pouring in 23 of 26 attempts. This was Bryant's fifth 40+ point game in the season, an impressive figure at this point in his career when he shared the court with Shaq, and a humble number compared to what he was doing in 2006-07.
22. Kobe v. Spurs, May 29, 2008 (Western Conference Finals)
39 points (16-30 FG) including 17-point comeback
The 2008 playoffs were an important moment for Kobe Bryant's NBA career. Having been without Shaquille O'Neal for the past couple of seasons, 2007-08 was Kobe's first legitimate opportunity to prove he could win a championship as a team's primary option. He hadn't been able to do much when the team consisted of himself, Lamar Odom and a bunch of scrubs, but the new influx of talent – namely Pau Gasol – had given the Lakers a competitive roster that still left Kobe as the clear leader.
He now had the tools to position himself among the contenders, and the roster makeup to enable him to remain that contender's leader. What was left was for Kobe to slay the dragons of the Western Conference that lay in his path.
This game is a perfect example of Kobe Bryant's killer instinct. The Lakers were on top of the Spurs 3-1 in the series, but the defending champions refused to go down easily. Kobe brought the Lakers back from down 17 with a closeout fourth quarter that effectively squashed the hopes of an unflappable team.
As many do know, Kobe unfortunately lost to the Boston Celtics and their trio of aging stars – Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen – all gunning for a late shot at a title. But this game showed that Kobe had the ability to lead a champion, and the next season proved it.
21. Kobe v. Nets, June 9, 2002 (NBA Finals)
36 points (14-23 FG), 6 rebounds
A mention should be made for Kobe's 46-point outburst on November 27, 2005, when the Lakers lost to the Nets in overtime 102-96. But that game is not listed for a few reasons:
a) The Lakers lost.
b) The game was relatively insignificant. It happened within the first month and a half of the season against an Eastern Conference opponent, a season where the Lakers lost in the first round of the playoffs.
c) Kobe finished the game shooting 38.9% from the field, and contributed only 3 rebounds and 3 assists.
Kobe was far more efficient on a far bigger stage. In Game 3 of the 2002 Finals, he poured in 36 points on 60.8% shooting. Along with Shaquille O'Neal, the pair was responsible for 71 of the Lakers 106 points in the game, all of them key in a three-point victory.
After the Nets closed a ten-point gap in the third, tying the game heading into the fourth quarter, Kobe sealed the game in the final minute after Jason Kidd and Kerry Kittles tried to trap him.
The Lakers were able to complete the sweep the next game, giving the Kobe-Shaq Lakers a championship three-peat.
20. Kobe v. Timberwolves, March 18, 2007
50 points (17-35 FG), 6 rebounds, 5 steals
The mid-2000s were an interesting time for the NBA. LeBron James was in the league already, dragging a hapless Cleveland Cavaliers team kicking and screaming into relevance, and his era of stars (Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh) were still "budding with potential". This was before the time that super-teams were assembled (Boston and Miami's "Big Three" come to mind), and well before the current NBA emphasis on efficiency.
The result is you have many nights where the rest of the Lakers players play like a clogged toilet, and their one star chooses to hoist up shot attempts in an effort to win a war of attrition against the basket.
This was the case for the entire 2006-07 season. Expect to see a lot of games from this season.
Oddly enough, tonight was a night where those shots were dropping. Not just for Bryant; the Lakers team shot 52.5% from the field, better than Bryant's 48%.
On the other side, the 28-37 Timberwolves were in a similar situation. They had a superstar in Kevin Garnett, and a sidekick wannabe superstar, Ricky Davis, who did more damage to his own team with his misses than he did to the other team with his makes. Otherwise, this was a team in rot, one that was ready to unload its biggest asset.
This was Kobe's second of four straight games with at least 50 points. And yet, this game is ranked lower than it normally would, and that's because of how depressing it feels watching it.
19. Kobe v. Nuggets, February 12, 2003
51 points (15-28 FG), 18-20 FT
The Los Angeles Lakers of the early 2000s were a total juggernaut, with the Lakers posting a .735 winning percentage en route to dismantling the Pacers, 76ers and the Nets in the NBA Finals three consecutive seasons. 2002-03 was the first season where the cracks started to show; the team began 11-19 in large part because their defense had become less stout. They allowed 104.7 points per every 100 possessions, up from 101.7 the season before. That may seem insignificant, but that was the difference between being ranked 7th in '01-'02 and 19th in '02-'03.
Of course, the Lakers quickly returned to their winning ways. In fact, when we see them here they have gone 14-4 since the 11-19 start. Going up against a pre-Melo Nuggets team at 12-38 was a recipe for a quick victory.
Kobe Bryant only needed 31 minutes to post 51, doing so on 53.5% shooting while hitting 90% of his free throws. The Nuggets made the poor chose to have someone named Vincent Yarbrough play 37 minutes and guard Kobe, which enabled our hero to crack 50 points, and his seventh straight with at least 35. The Nuggets trailed 102-69 after three quarters, as the Lakers outshot the Nuggets 48.7%-37.2%.
The Lakers eventually lost to the Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals, but their late season surge saved what looked like a lost season.
Kobe has tormented the Denver Nuggets in the past, posting at least 40 on them on nine separate occasions. Another game worth mentioning for Kobe against the Nuggets would be in Game 3 of the 2009 Western Conference Finals. Bryant posted 41 points with the series tied 1-1, lifting the Lakers to a 103-97 victory and giving them the series edge they would never relinquish.
18. Kobe v. 76ers, January 6, 2006
48 points (19-29 FG), 10 rebounds, 7-7 3-pt FGs
It's disingenuous to call the Sixers Kobe's hometown team. Sure he went to high school in Philadelphia at Lower Merion, but a good chunk of his childhood was spent in Italy when his father played international ball. The closest thing Kobe has to a hometown team is the AC Milan football club.
Still, there is a bit of an element of homecoming whenever Kobe returns to Philly, or when the Sixers visit the Staples Center. The Sixers were the opponents for one of the best games of Kobe's playoff career, Game 2 of the 2001 NBA Finals, when he posted 31 points, 6 assists and 8 rebounds after a shocking Game 1 loss for the Lakers. After that game, Kobe wasn't about to make this reunion a feel-good moment.
From Bill Plaschke at the Los Angeles Times:
[After the game], he was accosted one more time by a Philadelphia fan. He responded not with a curse or a gesture, but a perfectly calm Kobe Bryant prediction.
"We're going to cut your hearts out on Wednesday."
Kobe prevented the Lakers from going down 2-0, and Los Angeles would win out the rest of the series. It's a great Kobe moment that needs to be mentioned, but it's not his best game against Philly.
That would be the Lakers' win over the Sixers in 2006, when he was a perfect 7-7 beyond the arc and grabbed 10 rebounds to go along with his 48 points. Apparently Smush Parker caught what Kobe was infected with; he finished 5-5 from beyond the arc and put up 24 points.
Not only did the victory stop the Lakers' five game losing streak, it was the second of four straight where Kobe wouls score at least 45*.
*Kobe was suspended for the previous two games for elbowing the Memphis Grizzlies' Mike Miller in the throat, a game where he scored 45 in a 100-99 loss
[H/T: Bill Plaschke; Los Angeles Times]
17. Kobe v.
Pelicans (New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets at the time) March 23, 2007
50 points (16-29 FG), 7 rebounds, 16-16 FTs
Here we have game four of four on Kobe's 50-point streak. Unlike the matchup with the Timberwolves (where Kobe shot 17-35), he was able to score far more efficiently by going 16-29 from the field and a perfect 16-16 from the free throw line. The difference in his True Shooting Percentage* between the two games jumps from 59.5% to 69.4%.
The game was tight throughout, and it turned into a duel of sorts between Kobe and the young Chris Paul, who scored 28 points, posted 12 assists and 6 rebounds. The assists number for Paul is even more impressive when looking at the performance of his teammates; David West finished 4-16, Derrick Mason was 4-14, Devin Brown was 4-11 and Rasual Butler was 5-12.
This game also included another quote from a dumbstruck coach, this time Kobe's current coach and former teammate Byron Scott.
"We knew Kobe was going to have one of those nights," said Scott, who looked like Bryant's biggest fan in the hallway outside the locker room after the game ...
That's where Kobe was in 2007. Even if you are an opponent, you know it's coming. You're even happy about it.
*True Shooting Percentage factors in three-point shots and free throws
16. Kobe v.
Thunder (Seattle SuperSonics at the time), April 15, 2007
50 points (18-25 FG), 8 rebounds to clinch a playoff berth
With the Seattle SuperSonics (RIP) wearing their alternate yellow jerseys, the Lakers in their white home alternates, and a pixel count of about a dozen on the video, the highlights for this game are a bit confusing. But rest assured, that is Lakers v. Sonics basketball you are watching.
This victory was notable for two reasons:
- Kobe shot 72% from the field in this game, scoring 50 points on half as many attempts. Particularly in a 2007 season where he was forced to dominate the ball, this efficiency enabled the Lakers to win by a comfortable 11 point margin larger than it appears.
- This victory sealed a playoff spot for the Lakers, who had been to the postseason 42 of the 46 years they played in Los Angeles. This was the regular season's penultimate game, allowing the Lakers to finish 42-40 and fall into the West playoffs' 7th seed.
Soon after this game, the Lakers would be pitted against the Phoenix Suns, a team built fundamentally different from them. Lifting this roster past the NBA's most dynamic offensive team would be one of the toughest challenges of Kobe's career, and would result in some of his best games.
15. Kobe v. Warriors, December 6, 2000
51 points (18-35 FG), 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 13-13 FT
Here we have the earliest – and fuzziest – game on this list. What's wonderful about this entry is that not only do we see Kobe during the legendary 2000-01 season (when Los Angeles went 58-24), but also we see Kobe with a 'fro. You gotta love Frobe Bryant.
Frobe played a complete game here, hitting over half of his shots, going a perfect 13 for 13 from the stripe and contributing to the team effort with 7 rebounds and 8 assists.
A few reasons this entry isn't a bit higher:
- We are far removed from the present, because 15 years ago the Golden State Warriors were atrocious. Coming into this game they were just 5-13.
- The Lakers actually lost this game in overtime, 125-122.
- Frobe was actually outplayed in this game by Antawn Jamison, who himself put up 51 on a ridiculous 21-29 from the field, to go along with 13 rebounds. This was the second consecutive game where Jamison scored 51; he never reached that total again.
Still, this is a landmark game for Bryant against a team he has tormented in the past. He has scored at least 40 against them ten times.
14. Kobe v. Magic, June 4, 2009 (NBA Finals)
40 points (16-34 FG), 8 rebounds, 8 assists
The NBA has been blessed with dramatic NBA Finals series in recent memory. The Lakers' series with the Orlando Magic in 2009 was not one of those series. From Game One it was instantly clear which team – and which superstar – was the more prepared and more talented one.
While the Magic shot under 30% from the field and were out-rebounded 55-41, the Lakers remained unrelenting after falling behind 24-22 at the end of the first quarter.
While Magic center Dwight Howard went 1-6 from the field (getting most of his points from his 10-16 FT shooting), Kobe Bryant played a complete game, breaking 40 points exclusively with shots close to the basket, dishing out assists to teammates and contributing to the rebounding edge.
So, unfortunately these Finals were boring for the fan who wanted drama on the court. If you were watching to witness greatness? The 2009 Finals were perfect for you. The Magic were able to avoid a sweep, sneaking a four-point victory in Game Three, but to anyone watching this series, it felt sweep-worthy.
13. Kobe v. Heat, December 4, 2009
33 points (12-25 FG), 7 rebounds, 3 steals and a buzzer-beater to win the game
I like how open Derek Fisher is before Metta World Peace finds Kobe. Fisher absolutely could have gotten a better shot attempt than Kobe. But are you giving it to Derek Fisher in this situation? Hell no. I know Fisher has a penchant for playing well in the clutch, but he's not about to step into the Kobe Bean Bryant warpath.
This is the second-lowest scoring game for Bryant on this list, and he has had better statistical performances against the Miami Heat – he scored 42 against Miami in an overtime loss in 2004 – but it demonstrates a different side of Bryant's greatness.
The action preceding this final moment is important. With the Heat up by one, Bryant was responsible for a foul on Dwyane Wade. Wade made one of his two free throws, setting up this final shot of the game. The whole final sequence is personal and adversarial. Wade was so tight on Kobe, the Laker might has well have been trying to get past his reflection.
The moment is helped by the Mike Breen call – "HE BANKS IT IN! GHAH!" – but this game truly showed how ruthless Kobe was in the clutch.
12. Kobe v. Rockets, February 18, 2003
52 points (19-38 FG), 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 11-11 FT in 2OT victory
For Kobe's performances against the Houston Rockets, there were three clear options, all overtime classics where he topped 50:
- On December 15, 2006, he put up 53 on 17-38 shooting, while also pulling down 10 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists. Kobe filled the stat sheet, and closed out a double overtime victory 112-101.
- Later in the season, March 30, 2007, Kobe dropped 53 on the Rockets again. He was slightly less efficient and productive this time, going 19-44 (and 3-9 from three), and with the Lakers fighting for a playoff spot they lost to the Rockets 107-104 in overtime
- This game from 2003, resulting in 52 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in a double overtime victory.
That is a remarkable trio of games; most All-Star level players don't have three such games in their entire career, and Kobe has three against one team alone.
Watching this game, you truly get a sense of the fluidity of Kobe's game. From the first shot he is constantly winning with footwork, quickly using his pivot from a post-up to slide into a fade-away jumper. The best play comes at 1:11, when he sets up his defender to run right into a pick, then finishes strong over a rookie Yao Ming.
What's interesting to see when watching this video how many long twos Kobe takes. None of these shots would be encouraged with the league's efficiency obsessed teams, nor should they be for any team – many defenses are designed to allow this shot. But when those shots are dropping, it's hard to find something that is more fun to watch.
11. Kobe v. Suns, April 26, 2007 (Western Conference 1st round)
45 points (15-26 FG), 6 rebounds, 6 assists
The Lakers and the Suns seemed diametrically opposed in 2007. It's becoming increasingly clear that the 2007 Lakers team was a top-heavy roster mess; that's what enabled many of the performances here on this list.
But the Phoenix Suns of this era were a precursor to the current Golden State Warriors. The Suns were a deep team with a roster full of contributors, led by an MVP point guard with uncanny handle (Steve Nash) and athletic, versatile big men (Amar'e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion) that pushed the tempo up and down the court, winning by increasing possessions. This was an entertaining and fluid form of basketball, and as a result the Suns entered the playoffs as a juggernaut.
In the first round series, the Suns were able to jump to an early two-game lead in Phoenix. This was not only due to the high scoring volume but the perimeter defense of Raja Bell, who was a premier example of the 3-and-D wing player in that era. Bell shut down Kobe in the first two games, including a 15-point effort in Game Two.
Seeing the series and the season slip away, Bryant wasn't going to go down easily. In the first game at the Staples Center, Kobe went on a tear, dragging the Lakers from a 17-point deficit to a 3-point lead at the end of three quarters. Kobe's 15-point fourth quarter sealed a victory, and staved off an elimination game when the Lakers needed it the most.
10. Kobe v.
Hornets (Charlotte Bobcats at the time), December 29, 2006
58 points (22-45 FG), 5 rebounds, 4 assists in 3OT
This is the sixth highest scoring game of Kobe's career. And this game would be much higher if the Lakers had actually won.
On this list the Lakers are undefeated in regulation, but as one of two LA losses here – Kobe's 51-point performance against the Warriors being the other – it's easy to zero in on Kobe's shortcomings in this game, especially considering that the Bobcats were only 7-21 entering this game:
- He hoisted up forty-five attempts, and connected on less than half of them.
- He was 4-11 from beyond the three-point line.
- The game was lost when Kobe fouled Derek Anderson on a three-point attempt (leading to three made free throws), missed an open jumper and fouled out by committing a charge on Anderson.
Of course, when you're in a triple overtime war of attrition, the next highest scorer on the team is Luke Walton (with only 14) and you get out-rebounded 64-56, it's fair to give Kobe a little leeway.
This is the game that encapsulates the 2006-07 season the most; it's Kobe trying to drag his team to victory by himself, throwing up shot after shot because at least some are going to go in. The fact that this would often lead to victory should be evidence enough of Kobe's greatness, even if it didn't happen here.
9. Kobe v. Clippers, January 7, 2006
50 points (17-41 FG), 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 7 3-pt FGs
For most of Kobe's tenure preceding this game, the Los Angeles Clippers were a laughingstock of the NBA.
This game happened at what could have been a dramatic moment of change in the power structure of this rivalry. The Lakers had gotten rid of Shaquille O'Neal in 2004 and were resembling a shell of their championship selves, and the Clippers, long-time doormats, were now powered by forward Elton Brand and starting to come into their own as a franchise.
It was at this moment that Kobe Bryant chose to assert himself. In the previous game – our 76ers entry – Kobe was perfect from beyond the arc with seven 3-pointers, and he followed that up with another seven on fifteen attempts.
The Lakers would need all the production they could get from Kobe, as the next highest scoring Laker was Brian Cook off the bench with 16. The narrow 112-109 victory was had with a Kobe fade-away jumper with 12 seconds left, then a Smush Parker steal-and-dunk.
Soon, the Clippers went back to their losing ways just as the Lakers late '00s renaissance took off. That power structure wouldn't shift until the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin Clippers would inhabit the league simultaneously with the indestructible Lakers tank we currently see.
8. Kobe v. Jazz, November 30, 2006
52 points (19-26 FG), 4 rebounds
This game is remarkably similar to Kobe's efficient performance against the SuperSonics, when at the end of this particular season he went 18-25 to secure a playoff spot. Like that performance, Kobe had double the point total (52) of his shot attempt total (26), establishing early on that the only way he could be stopped is through constant fouling.
Unlike the game against the SuperSonics, Kobe posted this mark in only three quarters. This included a third quarter where he posted 30 of the Lakers' 42 points, and by the end of three Los Angeles was comfortably on top of the Jazz 95-73.
At this point in the young season, the Utah Jazz held the NBA's best record at 13-3, but had struggled to defend against the wing. Milwaukee's Michael Redd – at this time a poor man's version of Ray Allen, both in terms of his Milwaukee location and his playing style – posted 57. Even then, the Jazz were able to endure and win 113-111.
The difference between the two games was efficiency. This was the most efficient 50-point game of Kobe Bryant's career, as he shot 73% from the field – and finished with a True Shooting Percentage of 79.5%. He accomplished his 52-point mark in a little over 34 minutes. And importantly, he only recorded one turnover.
As a team, the Lakers shot an even 60% from the field, compared to 47% for the Jazz. The Bucks' narrow loss came down to losing the shooting percentage 48%-53%. For a team that relied on him so much, when Kobe Bryant could be efficient, he could kill even the best teams.
7. Kobe v. Grizzlies, March 22, 2007
60 points (20-37 FGs), 5 rebounds, 4 assists
Here's a nice cherry-picked statistic: Kobe Bryant posted twice as many 60-point games in one week as LeBron James in his entire career.
(If you want to counter that with another, you could say LeBron James has 37 career triple doubles, 16 more than Kobe despite playing in approximately 400 less games over his career. But I digress.)
So many players struggle to have nights where everything clicks, where they not only get the bulk of looks and opportunities to score, but those shots are dropping. Players with 60+ points in one game are rare; outside of Kobe, there are only two active players who have cracked 60 in a game: LeBron and Carmelo Anthony. And again, it happened to Kobe twice in one week.
Not only that, but this was the third of his four straight games of at least 50 points. And I reiterate, two of those were actually 60 point games. Between March 16th and April 16th, Kobe had seven 50-point games.
It's crazy trying to put that stretch in the perspective of the modern NBA. We are justified in getting excited when Stephen Curry catches fire from beyond the arc, or Russell Westbrook becomes He-Man and produces an insane triple-double. But never has a player in the modern era produced points this effectively. Michael Jordan's offensive success remained consistent – it sustained longer throughout a season – but he never had a week, or even a month, like Kobe Bryant was having here.
6. Kobe v. Knicks, February 2, 2009
61 points (19-31 FG), 20-20 FT, most points in MSG history*
The current record holder for most points scored in the history Madison Square Garden happens to be Carmelo Anthony. Melo dropped 62 (going 23-35) on the Charlotte Bobcats in 2014, setting both an arena record and a franchise record for the New York Knicks.
But in that five-year period, the Madison Square Garden record was in enemy hands. Kobe has had great games at Madison Square Garden before; he had recorded four games of 40+ at the arena before this night. On this night, Kobe chose to pair up with his familiar running mate in Pau Gasol, who himself put up 31 points, giving the pair 92 of the Lakers 126 points.
The most impressive element of this performance was Kobe's perfection from the free throw line. The NBA record for most free throws made without a miss is 23, by Atlanta Hawks' legend Dominique Wilkins from 2003. Kobe Bryant came very close; he took twenty foul shots and connected on them all, whittling down the Knicks' energy and making them pay for showing their frustrations.
*at the time
5. Kobe v. Kings, May 13, 2001 (Western Conference semifinals)
48 points (15-29 FG), 16 rebounds, 8 assists
Two complicated basketball relationships have always defined Kobe Bryant: 1) his up-and-down alliance with Lakers head coach Phil Jackson and 2) his mostly down partnership with Shaquille O'Neal.
The feud with Shaq has taken on somewhat mythic proportions. And somehow both Shaq and Kobe have been cast as villains; Kobe refused to take on any role seemingly beneath his legendary stature, and Shaq did all that he could to cut away at any success Kobe was experiencing.
The 1999-00 Lakers team was clearly Shaq's team; Kobe was the obvious "second banana". The team finished 67-15, and Shaq's dominance was never more apparent than in the Finals where he outscored Kobe 38 points per game to 15.
The 2000-01 Lakers were a different story. Shaq struggled with his efficiency (and his weight), while Kobe took the leadership mantle and led the team in scoring. The team was winning but not like they had last year. Shaq refused to accept a situation where he would the sidekick, Kobe continued to force his offense and soon enough the two were blaming each other for the failure to live up to the previous year.
The Western Semifinal clincher felt like an "eff-you" moment for Kobe directed right at Shaq. Shaq played well (25 points, 10 rebounds), but he fouled out in the fourth quarter, and watched as Kobe dropped 48 and 16, taking command of the team at their greatest moment of strength.
4. Kobe v. Trail Blazers, March 16, 2007
65 points (23-39 FG), 8-12 3pt shots, 7 rebounds
Of all of the matchups, this one has perhaps the most competition.
Kobe dropped 50 on them in 2006, a game where he shot 61% from the field. Three seasons ago, he dueled with a rookie Damian Lillard, putting up 47 to Dame's 38. And it's impossible to forget the Lakers' Game Seven comeback in the 2000 Western Conference Finals, sealed by this Kobe-to-Shaq alley oop.
But even though there are many options, it's impossible not to go with the second highest scoring output of Kobe's career, a game in his legendary 2007 season that was just as inspired by his pitiful supporting cast as it was his own scoring ability.
Floating around at 34-32 and coming off of a seven game losing streak, Kobe and the Lakers needed a victory to stay afloat in the Western Conference. The Blazers gave the Lakers everything they had, shooting 52.6% from beyond the three-point line. Meanwhile, the rest of the Lakers didn't provide Kobe with much help – for instance, Smush Parker finished 4-12 for 8 points – and so Kobe was forced to hoist up 39 attempts to push the game into overtime, including providing the Lakers with 24 of their 30 fourth quarter points.
The overtime period gave the Lakers the push they needed, cementing a legendary Kobe Bryant performance with a victory. It was his first of four straight games with at least 50 points.
3. Kobe v. Wizards, March 28, 2003
55 points (15-29 FG), 9-13 3-pt shots against Michael Jordan
The Michael Jordan farewell tour of 2003 bears some resemblance to Kobe Bryant's current edition. Jordan's retirement didn't seem as final; he had already retired twice before (in 1993 and 1998), and his marketing presence was still ubiquitous.
Unlike Kobe, Jordan had enjoyed a favorable reputation as a player and teammate – a reputation that has been since challenged – but Kobe's current farewell has still been warm. Both receive or have received tributes in arenas across the NBA, and fans around the league have voraciously sought tickets to away games in order to capitalize on their last chance see a legend play in the flesh.
What Kobe's tour is missing is a "passing of the torch" moment. The final time Jordan and Bryant played each other, we were able to see the past and future of the NBA at the same time.
Of the 55 points Kobe Bryant dropped that night, 42 of them were in the first half. In that half, Kobe scored 23 on nine consecutive shots. It was a Jordan-esque performance on front of the man himself, with Phil Jackson on the sideline.
There are wildly electrifying players in the NBA right now, but the Kobe Bryant farewell tour is missing its successor.
2. Kobe v. Mavericks, December 20, 2005
62 points (18-31 FG), 8 rebounds, 22-25 FT in 32 minutes
This game is probably even more impressive (although less historically significant) than the one listed first. Kobe Bryant sat out the entire fourth quarter of this game, and by that time he had racked up 62 points. The score at the end of three was Lakers 95 – Mavericks 61. Kobe Bryant had outscored the Mavericks by himself through three quarters.
This wasn't an awful Dallas Mavericks team either. The Mavs had entered the game at 18-6 and were well on their way to their first ever NBA Finals appearance. It's just that Kobe was that unstoppable at this point in his career.
You keep seeing 2005-07 on this list, and that was in the weird spot in Kobe's career when he was without Shaq or Pau Gasol. The result was a player who was not universally loved, but one that when he truly dominated the possession of the ball was the most dangerous in the NBA. Simply put, Kobe had to carry the load for his team.
Smush Parker also started in this game. He played for 29 minutes at point guard, shooting 2-7 from the field and 2-6 from the free throw line to finish the game with 7 points.
1. Kobe v. Raptors, January 22, 2006.
81 points (28-46 FG), 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 18-20 FT
Ten years later, it's hard to contextualize just how crazy Kobe Bryant's 81-point game. Throughout what will be 70 years in June, a player has scored more than that total once: Wilt Chamberlain famously scored 100 points on March 2, 1962.
Oversized statistics in basketball seemed like a relic of a transitionary era, when having the size and athleticism favorable to the game today was then a rare (but possible advantage). It was rare enough that the gulf between the game's stars and role players enabled Wilt's 100 or for Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double throughout a season.
When Kobe Bryant dropped 81 points on the Raptors, NBA fans were used to being enthralled with half as much. The game had evolved to the point where the talent gap had shrunk between the NBA's stars and its role players, and as a result the definition of a player quote "single-handedly taking over a game" unquote had been shrunk down. Kobe's game didn't elicit celebration so much as shock and awe.
Like those epic performances from fifty years ago, Kobe's 81-point game seems trapped in film grain. It's otherworldly, separated from the reality of basketball we live in today.