Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Worst. 60-Point Game. Ever.

Was Kobe's Big Night the Worst 60+ Point Game Of All Time?

As the time ticked down in the final minutes of the fourth quarter the tension in the Garden was reaching a fever pitch. Would he do it? Was it possible? Was this history in the making?

And, no. It wasn't Kobe's point total that had me at the edge of my seat late in the game. He had scored so many from the free-throw line (he went 20 for 20) on so many dubious touch calls and so wholly divorced himself from his teammates that watching his scoring display was more like being in an art gallery than at a sporting event. We were looking at something incredibly impressive that I couldn't fathom most people doing but there was little immediacy to it. He was firing up a few lightly-to-slightly contested jumpshots each minute that he was on the court and making more than he was missing. No doubt, it was something that most players couldn't pull off but it was also something that most players wouldn't attempt so doggedly without at least making concessions to their teammates. All in all, 50 points was a long time coming and not a shock when it arrived. 60 was a mild surprise but it was also deliberate. Of the last 12 offensive possessions that Kobe was on the floor for he either shot or got to the line 10 times. Trevor Ariza managed to sneak in two shot attempts during this time but there was no doubt that Kobe was just trying to score as many points as he could. Los Angeles called a timeout with 2:32 to play. They were up 18 points. And Kobe came back out. He had 59 points. He nailed two more free throws and then exited with 61. These were meaningless points. DJ Mbenga should have been on the floor. Not Kobe. When Bernard King scored 60 (for the previous MSG high) on Christmas day in 1984 he did it in a shootout against Michael Ray Richardson and the Nets. The Knicks lost that game by six and each point King scored was desperately needed by his club. He was carrying them on his back.

Unfortunately, too many of the johnny-come-latelies and carpet-bagging Lakers fans had dampened their pants with enthusiasm as Kobe pushed aside his teammates for his own glorification.

I was on pins and needles, however, as the game wound down. I wanted to see if Kobe Bryant could pull off a 60 point and zero rebound game. It seemed impossible. And, I was pretty sure that it had never been done before. Frankly, I became obsessed with it once I noticed. As Kobe feigned interest on defense and fired off laser beams from deep on the other end I was ever anxious that a long carom would hit him in the hands. Thankfully this did not happen. He left the game to rapturous applause and I knew that history had just been made. Impressive history and dubious history.

Impressively, Monday night was Kobe's sixth 60-point outing of his career. He's now second on the 60-point game list behind Wilt Chamberlain. The Stilt has 32 such games on his resume. Which abounds with numerical wonders. Michael Jordan trails both, forever, with 5 such games. Before last night, it was Jordan's famous double-nickle game at the Garden in 1995 (while wearing the four-five) that was the unimpeachable standard for a performance by a visitor. Kobe scored 61 on Monday. But has he really outdone Jordan?

Kobe did score more points on fewer shots. But that was in large part because he got nine more attempts from the free throw line than Jordan did when he scored 55. Also, it can't be forgotten that Jordan scored all the points while bringing the Bulls from behind against a Knicks team that finished the season with 55 wins. Most impressively, he recorded one of his two assists on the game-winning play. He fed Bill Wennington for a dunk that killed the Knicks during the endgame. That assist hurt even more than if Jordan had dunked it over Ewing, Oakley and my grandfather. That pass hurt badly. Given the context, I'd say that MJ's game was more impressive. Like King's 60 points in '84, every score mattered.

There have been, fittingly, 60 games in NBA history during which a single player has compiled 60 or more points. Wilt Chamberlain, who as I mentioned is responsible for 32 of these games, owns the single-game points record with 100 in a game. Also against the Knicks. I'm going to guess that Wilt had at least one rebound in that game. But, it's unfair to compare Kobe's 61 to Wilt's century mark. In fact, it's mostly futile to compare Kobe's big night at the Garden to any of Wilt's 60-point outings. Chamberlain was a different animal. By sheer virtue of his size he was bound to rebound the ball.

This leaves the other 28 games in which a player has scored 60 points. And before we go any further down this primrose path, let me say that saying this is the worst 60-point game of all time is like saying that Ingrid Seynhaeve is the least attractive model in the 1993 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. She's still hotter than Hansel right now. It's all relative. So, let's bear that in mind as we take a look at these other games. The game Bryant had is probably one of the top 100 or 150 games ever by an NBA player. But, is it worse than the other 59 60-point games?

Yes. In my opinion, it's the worst.

Going back to the 1986-87 season there have been 15 occassions on which a player has topped 60. No player (Kobe included) ever recorded zero rebounds. Including Monday night, just three had fewer than 6 boards. Kobe had 5 boards while scoring 60 against Memphis in 2007 and Iverson had 4 against Orlando in 2004. In that game Iverson had 6 assists, 5 steals and block. He scored 60 on the nose and his team won. He took at least a dozen shots in the paint and attacked the rim as he always has.

I know it can be simplistic to look at statistics as the be all and end all when documenting the night a player had. But it's also the best place to start. I saw Kobe's game. He didn't defend. He rarely passed. And throughout the second half he rarely played aggressively. He took what the defense gave him (15+ foot jumpers) and he benefited from a lot of favorable officiating.

The number of rebounds and steals put up by other members of the 60-point club displays the way they imposed themselves upon their opponents. In arguably the best game of the group, Jordan scored 69, grabbed 18 boards, dished out 6 assists, nabbed 6 steals and blocked a shot @ Cleveland in 1990. He also committed five personal fouls. Now, that is game in which he bent the opposition to his will. In 2006, Gilbert Arenas scored 60 against Kobe's Lakers and grabbed 8 boards and handed out 8 dimes. Another complete game. David Robinson, Shaq and Karl Malone have all topped 60 and they had 14, 23 and 18 boards respectively. I haven't be able to track down the box score for George Mikan's 61-pointer in 1952 but I'm going to guess the game's first giant picked up a double double.

I have no doubt that further rifling through yellowed newsprint or long-underused microfiche at the public library would further highlight the lack of depth in Kobe's record-setting game at the Garden. But, no amount of data is really needed to convince me (although I'm not sure about anyone reading this...). Because I watched Kobe with my own eyes. He was not like Jordan out there. He had an icy resolve but no ferocity. If anyone on the Lakers was really holding the Knicks down it was Pau Gasol, who had 31 points, 5 assists, 14 rebounds (4 on the offensive end) and 2 blocks.

I don't care what anyone says about the inanity of focusing on such a small detail because I have watched enough basketball to know that someone giving it there all does not come through 37 minutes of action without gathering a single rebound. It just doesn't happen. If you drive to the paint then you eventually gather your own miss or get a tip in after dishing the ball to a big. If you are playing tight defense then you inevitably follow a man underneath the hoop. And, without Andrew Bynum in the lineup there were more rebounds to be had.

I don't doubt that Kobe is capable of getting boards. And, that's the worst part. I just think that last night he didn't care. He left the hustle and the contact to his subordinates and only worried about getting his. It really wasn't inspiring. Which makes all the slobbering over him in the media that much harder to take. Where is the love for Pau's game? Where is the mention of the fact that the dude got 1/3 of his points at the stripe and is playing in a league with hand-check fouls that would made Jordan invincible?

I guess it's not news to say that Kobe isn't as good as MJ. But, after listening to everyone fawn over Kobe for the past few days it still feels like something worth noting.

And, you know what the worst part about this is? It's made me agree with Reggie Miller and stick up for Michael Jordan.

In the Year Two Thousand...and Ten

The Knicks' starting lineup will be...

PG: Darren Collison
The Knicks drafted Collison out of UCLA with the 16th pick in the 2009 Draft. After a season backing up Chris Duhon the Knicks turn the team over to their young floor general.

SG: Michael Redd
Redd saw the market for his services decline as the offseason dragged along. Although he was obscured by the mega-stars on the market, teams also shied away from him due to concern over his lingering knee problems. He signed late in September 2010 at a discounted rate with the Knicks rather than taking a more lucrative offer from San Antonio. The Knicks had the flexibility to sign Redd, even on the cheap, because they were able to unload Eddy Curry to the Mavericks by including Wilson Chandler in exchange for Josh Howard's expiring contract during the 2009 season.

SF: Lebron James
Having won a title during the 2008-2009 season in Cleveland, Lebron felt like he had given his all to the Forest City. To the shock of no one he quickly signed with the Knicks for a max contract after the Cavs were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Orlando Magic. The press conference was held in the middle of Times Square at high noon and traffic was closed for eight square blocks like in those scenes from Vanilla Sky. Nike footed the bill for the street closures and unleashed a new Lebron shoe that would go on to be the greatest-selling shoe in the history of the company.

PF: Danilo Gallinari
The Italian Stallion is already hear. He's six feet and nine inches tall and still growing at 20 years old. He looks to shoot the three, can take guys off the dribble and can finish the ally-oop above the rim.

C: Chris Bosh
Of all the members of the Class of 2010, Bosh is the one who seems the surest bet to bolt his current team. Shockingly, he'll think long and hard about it. After Lebron quickly jumps to Manhattan, Wade signs with Miami and Joe Johnson inks a deal to play with Duncan in San Antonio, all eyes will turn towards Bosh. He'll realize that he likes the spotlight. He likes hearing about himself on Sportscenter after being relatively anonymous up in Canada for so long. For these reasons (and for that max contract), he will sign with the Knicks. Everything about the situation appeals to him. He'll get a ton of pub but won't have to carry a club. He knows Lebron and D'Antoni from the national team and even the weather in New York will seem balmy after so many years north of the border.