Perfect Storm: Kobe Bryant Scores 30 Third Quarter Points Without Missing a Shot, Drops 52 as Lakers Rout Jazz, 132-102The term perfect game is usually applied in baseball--and not that frequently. If you watched Kobe Bryant's performance in the Lakers 132-102 blowout of the Utah Jazz on Thursday then you saw the closest thing that you will ever see to a basketball player being perfect, at least for 12 glorious minutes. In the third quarter, Bryant made all nine of his field goal attempts (including two three pointers), sank all 10 of his free throws and tied his own Lakers franchise record with 30 points. He also played good defense and made some gorgeous passes. Andrei Kirilenko--one of the league's best defensive players--was guarding Bryant during a good part of this time. Bryant also made his last two field goal attempts of the second quarter, including a slam dunk right in Kirilenko's grill, so he actually made 11 straight field goals. Bryant hit deep threes, running jumpers, turnaround jumpers--he was so hot that when Deron Williams fouled him when he attempted a pull up three pointer on the fast break no one said anything about not fouling a jump shooter; TNT's Steve Kerr said that you have to contest someone's shot when they are that hot. In addition to the flying facial to close out the first half, Bryant delivered an even more impressive dunk in the third quarter, posterizing Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer.
After the game, Bryant said that it felt like he was playing a video game. TNT's Marv Albert, who has seen more than a few great games, declared during the telecast, "This will go down as one of the great performances of all-time for a single quarter." Kerr added, "You get an idea of just how much better Kobe Bryant--or Michael Jordan--is than everybody else out on the floor. When you consider how good NBA players are, that's just amazing. Kobe was just a man among boys tonight." Bryant sat out the last half minute of the third quarter or he might have tied George Gervin's NBA record of 33 points in a quarter. As Albert and Kerr mentioned, Gervin's effort came in the last game of the 1978 season when he was gunning for the scoring title in an otherwise meaningless game. Bryant's performance came in the middle of the season against the team with the best record in the NBA. Bryant made a token appearance in the fourth quarter before returning to the bench. He finished with 52 points on 19-26 shooting from the field and 12-15 free throw shooting, adding four rebounds and three assists and committing only one turnover in 34 minutes. This was the 12th 50 point game of Bryant's career and his highest scoring output since his epochal 81 point game last year; the Lakers are 9-3 in those contests.
In the wake of this astounding performance, ESPN's Ric Bucher asks a very logical question: When will people quit trying to anoint others and simply admit that Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player on the planet? Bucher writes, "How many times must Kobe demonstrate that no one in the league--and I mean no one--has his combination of skill, tenacity, understanding of time and score, killer instinct and ability to control the game at both ends? And how many times must I be the one taking the flag and waving it? Trust me, if you're sick of me sticking up for Kobe, I'm equally sick of having to do it. It shouldn't be this difficult to have the man recognized as the league's all-around best player. OK, so you don't like him. I'm good with that. But not respect him? Not give him his due? Anoint anyone who hasn't accomplished half of what he has as The King or The One or The Whatever?"
The rest of the game kind of falls into the "Oh, by the way" category but it is at least worth mentioning that the Lakers simply destroyed the team that has the best record in the league, a squad that beat the San Antonio Spurs last night. Yes, the Jazz were playing the second game of a back to back but the Lakers' overall performance was very impressive. Lamar Odom had 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists and Maurice Evans--a nice offseason acquisition--scored 17 points in 23 minutes. The Lakers outrebounded the Jazz, the league's best rebounding team, 43-34. Boozer finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Jazz rookie Paul Millsap had 13 points on 6-7 shooting and seven rebounds in only 17 minutes; as Kerr noted, some guys just have a nose for the ball and he might be the steal of the draft.
The Lakers improved to 10-5 and are in first place in the Pacific Division. The one cautionary note about their early success is that their schedule has been heavily loaded with home games, meaning that they will have to do well on the road in the second half of the season to maintain their position in the standings--but Thursday was not about the standings or cautionary notes or anything other than the best player in the game putting on a classic performance. If you missed it, you missed something really special.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:50 AM