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Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game was just part of the Lakers legend’s greatest scoring streak

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Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game was just part of the Lakers legend’s greatest scoring streak

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Kobe Bryant started 2006 not with a spectacular jumper or dunk, but rather with a suspension.

The Lakers star was forced to sit out the first two games of the new year after elbowing Grizzlies guard Mike Miller in a loss in Los Angeles on December 30, 2005. Bryant was “shocked” by the NBA decision and noted that opposing players had already hit him with hard flagrant fouls but avoided punishment.

“I wish I could go back in time and pull that foul out knowing what I know now, getting two games for it,” Bryant said. “But in my mind, I didn’t think it would be a suspension for something like that. No way.”

MORE: Your version of Kobe Bryant doesn’t need to match anyone else’s

Maybe that suspension gave Bryant some extra motivation because, man, he made up for lost time. Bryant returned to the floor Jan. 6, scoring 48 effective points in a win over the 76ers — and that was just the start.

Over 13 games in January 2006, Bryant averaged an incredible 43.4 points per game, marking the biggest scoring month of his illustrious career. Only four players in NBA history have averaged more than 40 points per game for an entire month (minimum 10 games played): Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, James Harden and Elgin Baylor.

The standout performance came on Jan. 22 when Bryant torched the Raptors for 81 points, the second-highest individual total of all time behind Chamberlain’s lone outburst of 100 points. The box score is staggering, but it’s the way Bryant did it that was so impressive.

“Everyone wants to talk about the numbers. He could have had 71. He could have had 91,” former Raptors guard Jalen Rose told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano. “The main thing I want everyone to take away from this game is this man’s discipline, his focus. So as a professional from another team, Jorge, you know what you have to do? You have to take it.

“And that’s why when people try to tease me, I’m like, uh, we’ve got it under 100. What do you mean? What are you talking about? He’s the Michael Jordan’s remix. … This game embodies all of his -time greatness for sure.”

But Kobe’s mad dash was much more than the famous 81.

Bryant drained his seven 3-pointers against Philadelphia to start the month. He lost 50 points to the Clippers and 51 to the Kings. He has gone five games in a row without missing a single free throw. He scored at least 30 points in 12 of 13 games and 40 or more in seven of those contests.

Game Points Aids Bounces FG/FGA 3PT FG/3PT FG FT/EFA More less
January 6 48 2 ten 19-29 7-7 3-4 +23
January 7 50 8 8 17-41 7-15 9-10 +9
January 9 45 5 ten 14-32 2-6 15-21 +7
January 11 41 3 2 13-29 3-13 12-13 -8
January 12 27 2 2 9-21 1-5 8-8 -2
January 14 38 seven seven 13-28 1-5 11-11 +4
January 16 37 4 3 13-24 2-5 9-9 +14
January 19 51 4 9 17-35 4-12 13-13 -13
January 20 37 2 2 12-33 4-12 9-9 -17
January 22 81 2 6 28-46 7-13 18-20 +25
January 27 30 8 5 7-22 2-4 14-16 0
January 29 39 3 6 12-28 3-11 12-14 -ten
January 31 40 3 3 7-17 3-8 23-26 +18
Medium 43.4 4.1 5.6 47.0% 39.7% 89.7% +50 (total)

The Lakers went 9-4 in January and 45-37 overall in 2005-06, relying heavily on Bryant to simply lead them to victory. The Hall of Famers averaged a career-high 35.4 points per game that season. Los Angeles’ second leading scorer, Lamar Odom, was more than 20 points behind him at 14.8.

A lack of depth ultimately doomed the Lakers, as they fell to the Suns in the first round of the 2006 NBA playoffs. Los Angeles held a 3-1 lead after Bryant hit several clutch shots during a a victory in Game 4, but Phoenix won the last three games of the series to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals.

Anything less than a championship was unacceptable to Bryant, so he probably didn’t look back on this campaign with emotion. Still, that stretch — and this whole season — showed what kind of heights Kobe could reach.

It also marked the end of an era. Bryant went from No. 8 to No. 24 for the 2006-07 season and wore that jersey for the rest of his NBA days.

“When I first came in at 8 years old, I was really trying to ‘plant your flag,'” Bryant told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes in 2017. “I have to prove that I belong here in this league. I have to prove that I’m one of the best in this league. You’re chasing them. It’s relentless energy and aggression and so on.

Not only did Bryant prove he was one of the best in the league, he proved he belonged in the discussion of the best to ever hit the court. He has an elite basketball resume, but Kobe’s excellence can be explained in a month.

Now imagine if he hadn’t been suspended for two games.

Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game was just part of the Lakers legend’s greatest scoring streak

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