7:30 PM ET, January 14, 2002
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Phil Jackson has seen this act before -- many times from a guy named Jordan.
Kobe Bryant almost single-handedly outscored the Grizzlies through three quarters
Nevertheless, he was clearly impressed with what Kobe Bryant accomplished Monday night.
Bryant made certain the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers wouldn't miss suspended star Shaquille O'Neal, scoring a career-high 56 points as the Lakers routed the Memphis Grizzlies 120-81.
Bryant, playing with O'Neal's No. 34 scrawled in black ink on the side of both shoes, had the most points in an NBA game this season despite sitting out the fourth quarter.
"It was a wonderful night for him," said Jackson, who coached the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls to six championships in the 1990s. "This is terrific, I haven't seen him any better than he was tonight.
"We had a meeting as a team this morning and he said, `I take responsibility for what happened a lot in the last couple of games and I want to make up for it tonight.' I thought that meant he was going to pass the ball."
Jackson made the remark with a smile, and got a big laugh out of the assembled media.
Bryant's previous career high was 51 points at Golden State on Dec. 5, 2000, and the previous NBA best this season was 53 by San Antonio's Tim Duncan in a 126-123 overtime loss to Dallas on Dec. 26.
Bryant made 21 of 34 shots, including 3-for-6 from 3-point range, and 11 of 12 free throws while playing 34 minutes. He also had five rebounds and four assists.
Bryant probably could have challenged the franchise-record 71 points scored by Elgin Baylor more than 40 years ago had the game not been so one-sided; it was 98-59 entering the fourth quarter.
Bryant said he was happy to come out of the game, and Jackson said he made the decision due to the one-sided nature of the contest.
"For some reason, I felt really good," Bryant said. "I felt like I was in a groove. I didn't get the feeling of the basket being big, I had a lot of bounce. The legs felt extremely good."
Bryant said he heard about O'Neal's suspension on his way to the game, and decided to write his teammate's number on his shoes.
It was just a year ago the two took their simmering feud public. Things sure have changed.
"I love you, man," Bryant said when asked if he had a message for O'Neal, who was suspended by the NBA for three games earlier in the day for fighting with Chicago's Brad Miller on Saturday night.
The 23-year-old Bryant, in his sixth NBA season, scored 18 points in each of the first two quarters as the Lakers took a 63-45 halftime lead, and added 20 more in the third period, including a 3-pointer with 1:44 remaining that gave him a career high.
Shortly thereafter, many in the sellout crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center began chanting "Kobe! Kobe!" and the chant continued while he watched from the bench early in the fourth quarter.
"That was one of the most incredible things you'll probably ever see," said teammate Robert Horry, a 10-year NBA veteran. "Words can't describe what that cat did tonight. He was unreal."
Averaging 25.8 points entering the game, Bryant surpassed his previous season-high of 39 by making two free throws with 8:20 left in the third quarter.
After that, he just kept going and going until he got to 56.
"He was unbelievable, he was unconscious, inside, outside," Grizzlies coach Sidney Lowe said. "I want to say we looked a little tired, but I can't take anything away from him. He's just too good."
By winning, the Lakers avoided their first three-game losing streak under Jackson, their coach since the start of the 1999-00 season. They have a 180-57 record under Jackson, including 30-8 in the playoffs.
The loss snapped Memphis' season-high three-game winning streak, and was the first for the Grizzlies since Jason Williams, held to one point in this game, called them the NBA's worst team after a loss to Seattle.
The Lakers went ahead for good by scoring 11 straight points for a 24-14 lead. Gasol, averaging a team-leading 16.0 points, scored his team's first 10.
O'Neal, averaging 25.6 points and 10.7 rebounds, must also sit out Wednesday night's game against visiting Miami and Saturday's nationally televised game at San Antonio. ... Horry made his first start of the season as a replacement for O'Neal. ... The Lakers haven't lost three straight regular-season games since April 1999, and a team coached by Jackson hasn't lost three in a row since January 1995, when he was coaching the Bulls and Michael Jordan was playing baseball. ... The Lakers' 27-8 record is the NBA's best, but they have lost at Memphis, Golden State and Chicago in the past month. Those three teams were in last place in their respective divisions when those games were played. ... The Lakers are 24-2 against the Grizzlies, including 14-0 in Los Angeles since they joined the NBA as an expansion team in Vancouver six years ago. They moved to Memphis before this season. ... Memphis' Nick Anderson didn't dress for the game because of the flu.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||31-78 (.397)||48-97 (.495)|
|3PM-3PA||1-10 (.100)||10-22 (.455)|
|FTM-FTA||18-23 (.783)||14-17 (.824)|
|Fast Break Points||0||22|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||19 (0/0)||17 (1/0)|