Kobe's Huge Night
When asked how he felt about the Phoenix Suns after a game he thoroughly dominated with 48 points on Tuesday, the 108th time in his career he's scored at least 40, Kobe Bryant didn't mince words.
"I don't like (the Suns), plain and simple," he explained. "They used to whoop us pretty good and let us know about it, and I will not forget that ... I won't let it go."
Since playoff losses to the Steve Nash Suns teams from 2006 and 2007 in particular, Bryant has relished going off on the Suns whenever he's had the chance:
- On March 22, 2011, Bryant scored 42 against the Suns, plus 12 boards and nine assists, in a 139-137 win.
- On May 17, 2010, Kobe dropped 40 on Phoenix in Game 1 of the Western Finals, and went on to average 33.7 points in the series.
- On March 1, 2009, Kobe exploded for 49 points on the Suns, the most he had scored in the past three seasons, in a 118-111 loss.
On this Tuesday evening, Bryant had it going from the beginning, and didn't let up through the end.
“He’s the best player in the world," said Nash after the contest. "You come to expect that type of performance from him. He does it regularly throughout the season and he was phenomenal tonight.”
Kobe scored at ease on 8-of-11 shooting in the first quarter to reach 17 points after 12 minutes. He slowed in the second quarter, missing all but one shot but adding four free throws to check in at 23 points by halftime. Perhaps we should mention here that Bryant is playing through a torn ligament in his shooting wrist that requires an injection prior to each game, and that he says makes it particularly tough for him to find his touch from 3-point range (he's shooting just 20 percent from three on the season, compared with 45 percent overall).
He hadn't quite found his touch in the third, sinking 3-of-8 field goals plus three more free throws to hit 32 points, but he truly saved his best for last, going off for 16 fourth quarter points (one more than Phoenix managed as a team) on 6-of-7 field goals, and 4-of-4 free throws, for the grand total of 48.
"It's not something that's necessary for us," Bryant said of his scoring, which is a shift from those times back in the day when his teams often lost to the Suns. "It's a weapon for us to put the defense in jeopardy."
Generally speaking, 16-year veterans don't get stronger as games go on, but Kobe did just that, saving two explosive dunks for crunch time. The first came with two hands, after a blow by with Grant Hill defending. The second came after Bryant noticed center Marcin Gortat having to clear the lane to avoid a 3-second call, allowing him to slip to the rim, and reverse-hammer-slam a Matt Barnes' alley-oop pass that had the Staples Center faithful going nuts, MVP chants ensuing.
"I was just reading what I saw," Bryant shrugged. "I took advantage of it, and Matt made a great pass."
After the game, Lakers coach Mike Brown was asked if he thinks Kobe's been so effective early this season due to the treatment he got on his knee in the offseason, which seems to have him moving much better.
"I don't know," Brown answered, before laughing at the thought of the other injuries Bryant's playing through. "If you open him up, he might be a machine."
The 48 points marked a high-mark in scoring across the NBA through the first few weeks, and brought Bryant closer to catching LeBron James for the No. 1 spot on this season's scoring chart (29.5 to LeBron's 30.1).
All in a night's work, at least when in Black Mamba mode.