Somewhere in New Jersey, NBA commissioner David Stern watched his league's slate of West Coast games Sunday evening and smiled.
In Los Angeles, Lakers star Kobe Bryant stole the headlines with his career-high 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors, the second-highest scoring game in NBA history after Wilt Chamberlain's magical 100-point effort in 1962. Bryant's dizzying array of drives to the basket and 3-pointers was a show unlike any seen in the NBA in years, if not decades.
Bryant's exploits overshadowed what was, in many respects, an equally improbable game just to the East a couple of hours earlier. With Ray Allen drilling his eighth 3-pointer of the game at the buzzer, the Sonics outlasted the Phoenix Suns 152-149 in double overtime, proving once again the old adage that the first team to 150 always wins. The Sonics and Suns scored the most combined points in a game since '95, broke an NBA record by combining for 32 3-pointers and saw no fewer than three players -- Phoenix's Raja Bell (31) and Seattle's Luke Ridnour (30) and Robert Swift (15) -- score career highs.
In their own way, each game represented what Stern might have envisioned when the NBA decided prior to last season to better enforce existing rules limiting contact by defensive players with offensive players above the free-throw line. That reinterpretation was the latest move by the league to counteract a decades-long trend decline in scoring league-wide that saw teams go from averaging a record 118.8 points per game in '61-62 (coincidentally or not, the same year as Chamberlain's most noteworthy performances, including the 100-point game) to just 93.4 points per game in 2003-04.
In these bottom-line terms, the move was undoubtedly a success. The NBA's average score increased by 3.8 points per team to 97.2 last year. That number is slightly down to 96.7 points per game this season, but still comfortably above the low-water mark.
But at the same time, much of what underlined the success of the reinterpretation of the rules came on the backs of those slow to adjust to those changes. Made free throws increased by 1.5 per game between '03-04, with some players and teams -- notably the Utah Jazz, who committed 161 more fouls than any other NBA team -- slower than others to alter their styles of play.