Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game was only a part of Lakers legend’s greatest scoring run

Kobe Bryant started 2006 not with a jump shot or a spectacular dunk, but 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 during a Los Angeles loss on Dec. 30, 2005. Bryant was “shocked.” for the NBA’s ruling and noted that opposing players had hit previously. him with harsh flagrant fouls but avoided punishment.

“I wish I could go back in time and take that foul back knowing what I know now, getting two games for it.” bryant said. “But no way in my mind did I think it was going to be a suspension for something like that. No way.”

Maybe that suspension gave Bryant extra motivation because, man, did he make up for lost time. Bryant returned to the court on Jan. 6, scoring an efficient 48 points in a win over the 76ers, and that was just the beginning.

Over the course of 13 games in January 2006, Bryant averaged an incredible 43.4 points per game, marking the highest 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 January 22 when Bryant torched the Raptors with 81 points, the second-highest individual total of all time, trailing only Chamberlain’s 100-point explosion. The box score is amazing, however it was the way Bryant did it that was so impressive.

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

“And that’s why when people try to make fun of me, I’m like, um, we kept him under 100. What do you mean? What are you talking about? He’s the Michael Jordan remix. … That game embodies his everything. -the greatness of safe time.”

But Kobe’s crazy streak was much more than the famous 81.

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

Play Points assists bounces FG/FGA 3PT FG/3PT FGA FT/FTA More less
January 6th 48 two 10 19-29 7-7 3-4 +23
January 7th fifty 8 8 17-41 7-15 9-10 +9
January 9th Four. Five 5 10 14-32 2-6 15-21 +7
January 11 41 3 two 13-29 3-13 12-13 -8
12th of January 27 two two 9-21 1-5 8-8 -two
January 14 38 7 7 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 two two 12-33 4-12 9-9 -17
January 22 81 two 6 28-46 7-13 18-20 +25
January 27th 30 8 5 7-22 2-4 14-16 0
January 29 39 3 6 12-28 3-11 12-14 -10
January 31 40 3 3 7-17 3-8 23-26 +18
Average 43.4 4.1 5.6 47.0% 39.7% 89.7% +50 (all)

The Lakers went 9-4 in January and 45-37 overall in 2005-06, relying largely on Bryant to simply carry them to victory. The Hall of Famer 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 make multiple clutch shots in a Game 4 win, but Phoenix took the final three games of the series to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

Anything less than a championship was unacceptable to Bryant, which is probably why he didn’t remember that season fondly. Still, that stretch, and the entire season, showed what kind of heights Kobe could reach.

It also marked the end of an era. Bryant switched 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, I was really trying to ‘plant your flag’ something like that,” Bryant told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes in 2017. “I have to show that I belong here in this league. I have to show that I’m one of the best in this league. You go after them. It’s non-stop energy and aggressiveness and stuff.”

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

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