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Right of way

Limits on defense paved way for Kobe's big night

Posted: Monday January 23, 2006 12:54PM; Updated: Monday January 23, 2006 9:05PM
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Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point effort on March 2, 1962 is still the performance against which all scorers are measuredt.
Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point effort on March 2, 1962 is still the performance against which all scorers are measuredt.

Spectacular. Captivating. Amazing.

Kobe Bryant's 81-point explosion against the Raptors on Sunday night was certainly all that and more. The Lakers' superstar put his full arsenal on display while leading his team to the 122-104 victory. He sank jumpers from all over, drove the lane, drained 3-pointers, scored off steals and defense.

Most important, he did it while leading his team back from an 18-point deficit.

Even the most ardent Kobe critic can't scoff at this scoring line: 28-of-46 from then field, 18-of-20 from the free-throw stripe, six rebounds, two assists.

But was Bryant's performance the best ever?

Let's not get carried away. Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game is still the gold standard.

Bryant's performance was more impressive than Wilt's in one way, however. Chamberlain was a 7-foot-1 giant in a game still populated with smaller, slower players. Bryant had to swerve around all types of defenders, most of whom (safe to say) were longer and more athletic than those Chamberlain faced. He also had to do it on a sore ankle (from a previous game), and against a defense that was probably much more sophisticated and prepared in terms of scouting (though the Raptors' D sure didn't look like it on this night).

But Bryant had one big advantage over Wilt (and more recent players such as Michael Jordan) in that the new rules have made it almost impossible to defend against anyone. It's no coincidence that we've got three players averaging more than 30 points this season (Kobe, Allen Iverson and LeBron James), which would be the first time that's happened since 1981-82. In fact, were it not for Kobe's explosion, we'd probably all be talking this morning about Sunday's 152-149 Sonics-Suns double OT game, the league's highest-scoring game in 11 years.

As Blazers coach Nate McMillan once said after the NBA instituted the first set of new rules against hand-checking, back in the late '90s: "Michael Jordan would love this. It was almost impossible to guard him when you could touch him. With these rules, he could get 100 points."

Bryant is the beneficiary of this new offensive-minded NBA, and he has been building toward something like this for months. Earlier this season, he had a 62-point game against the Mavs. In that one, he chose to sit out the fourth quarter because the Lakers were winning in a rout. Later, he said he felt he could have hit 80 points if he'd stayed in.