Nothing Routine About Sunday Night

Kobe Bryant had just scored his 47th point on Sunday night when I had the good fortune of tuning into the Lakers and Raptors just after 10 o’clock Central time.

I was deviating from the usual Sunday night routine – equal parts procrastinating and writing – hoping the muse would stop by with a decent column idea as I dozed off to a late night League Pass lullaby.

Kobe just found ways to collect buckets
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Sleep became the furthest thing from my mind when I realized I was watching a performance that could inspire absentee season-ticket holder Jack Nicholson to channel Jack Torrance from “The Shining” when he reads today’s paper and sees ‘81’ next to Kobe’s name in the box score.

Jack probably has already given his coffee table the Scatman Crothers treatment, because only the 4,124 fans in Hershey, Pennsylvania on March 2, 1962 – the night Wilt scored 100 – have ever witnessed a more prolific individual accomplishment than Bryant’s 81-point effort, and he wasn’t courtside.

I smell a plotline for Anger Management II.

Bryant bristles about comparisons to Michael Jordan. In his 10th season, Kobe finally accomplished something Jordan never did. More impressively, he carried his team back from an 18-point second-half deficit to an easy 122-104 win over Toronto.

Michael’s best effort was a 69-point effort that predictably came against Cleveland, and required overtime. Kobe blew past MJ’s crown jewel at the 4:52 mark of the final quarter, hit two more jumpers, and scored his final seven points at the free throw line before leaving to a roaring ovation at the STAPLES Center with four seconds remaining.

Bryant scored 55 in the second-half, single-handedly rescuing the Lakers from an embarrassing home loss. After Matt Bonner gave Toronto its biggest lead, 69-51, the Lakers outscored Toronto 71-35 over the final 22 minutes, 53 of those coming from Kobe’s hot hand.

The only proof of Bryant’s mortality was the end of his streak of 62 consecutive free throws made. By the end of the game, his new streak had already reached 10. Kobe’s 18-of-20 accuracy at the line augmented a 28-of-46 night from the field that included 7 three-pointers in 13 attempts.

It’s easy to be cynical about Bryant. He was force-fed to us ad nauseum in 1998, during his first All-Star Weekend, as the 19-year-old heir to Michael Jordan’s throne before he had accomplished more than a few playoff airballs. He ball-hogged his way to an MVP performance at the 2002 All-Star Game that drew boos in his native Philadelphia.

During the second of three “post-Jordan” eras, his talent became evident, but his three NBA championships came while playing understudy to the more dominant (and personable) Shaquille O’Neal.

Bryant’s extraordinary ego battle with O’Neal left the Lakers in disarray after an embarrassing loss to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals. Even Phil Jackson waved the white flag, figuring it would be more cathartic to write about the challenge of coaching Kobe than relive it.

Last year, Bryant’s first without O’Neal, was an abject failure on and off the court for Kobe, who endured legal woes and his first losing season.

This year, we’ve seen a different Kobe, one who has publicly embraced Jackson’s return to the bench. His leadership has carried the Lakers to a 22-19 mark at the halfway point, a pace well ahead of last year’s 34 wins.

There is still an ego – the great ones need it to thrive – but his maturity was never more evident than when he sat himself down after scoring 62 points in three quarters against Dallas earlier this season.

In that contest, the outcome was no longer in question, and Kobe recognized that nothing could be gained except individual achievement. On Sunday, the Lakers needed Kobe’s bionics to secure a win, so teammates were willing to defer.

In the final 12 minutes, Kobe scored 28 of the Lakers 31 points, and assisted on the three-pointer by Lamar Odom that accounted for the remaining points. He took 28 of the Lakers 38 shots after halftime. He made 18.

And, for the first time, I found myself rooting for Kobe Bryant.

Kobe’s Quarter-by-Quarter

1st: 14 points (5-10 FG, 4-4 FT) in 12 minutes
2nd: 12 points (5-8 FG, 1-2 FT) in 6 minutes
3rd: 27 points (11-15 FG, 1-1 FT) in 12 minutes
4th: 28 points (7-13 FG, 12-13 FT) in 12 minutes

-Kobe outscored Toronto 55-41 in the second half
-Kobe scored 66.4 percent of the Lakers points
-Kobe outscored the Lakers starters 81-80
-Kobe increased his season scoring average from 34.8 to 35.9.
-Kobe scored 32 of LA’s final 37 points.

Movie Night at Larry’s

In case you missed it, Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller made news by refusing to screen Brokeback Mountain at his suburban Salt Lake City movie theatre.

What you might not realize, is that it continues a long NBA tradition of folks ignorantly turning their backs on films they know nothing about. Our sources have tracked down a partial list of NBA personalities offended by these titles.

Home Alone - Latrell Sprewell
Kill Bill - Pistons owner William Davidson
Problem Child - Ron Artest
The Usual Suspects - Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen
Cookie’s Fortune - Magic Johnson

-- Bill Evans appears weekly on NBA.com, where he worked from 1996-99. Now a Milwaukee-based freelance writer, he has also worked with the Sonics, Bucks and Cavaliers.

Have anything to say? E-mail Bill at billnbatalk@yahoo.com