Michael Jordan never did it.
Neither did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the league’s all-time leading scorer.
Wilt Chamberlain did it ... once.
Kobe Bryant carved out a piece of NBA history by scoring 81 points Sunday against the Toronto Raptors, the second-highest total ever and more than enough to lead the Lakers past the Raptors, 122-104, in front of an energized, if not disbelieving, sellout crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center.
Bryant more than doubled the 34.8 points he had been averaging, making 28 of 46 shots (60.9%) and hitting 18 of 20 free throws. He made seven of 13 three-point attempts and also had six rebounds and two assists in the come-from-behind victory.
After Bryant blew past the 60-point mark, and then breezed by the 70-point plateau, fans stood for the final part of the fourth quarter, taking photos and chanting his name again and again.
Bryant, taken out of the game with 4.2 seconds to play, went to the bench and hugged Laker Coach Phil Jackson. Public-address announcer Lawrence Tanter implored fans to save their ticket stubs from the “historic night at Staples Center.”
Teammates and staff members asked Bryant to sign copies of the box score. Laker owner Jerry Buss said it was “like watching a miracle unfold.” Magic Johnson called Bryant to congratulate him.
Bryant, who had 62 points before leaving the game after three quarters Dec. 20 against the Dallas Mavericks, on Sunday beat Elgin Baylor’s franchise record of 71 points, set in November 1960 against New York.
Bryant’s 55 second-half points also set a franchise record for points in a half, topping the 42 he had against Washington in March 2003.
The Lakers, who finished 34-48 last season, reached the midpoint of this season’s schedule with a 22-19 record.
“We are going from the bottom to the top all together, so it’s important for us to enjoy the journey, and that is what we are doing right now,” Bryant said. “We are on a journey, and to put on a show like this for the fans here in L.A. is truly something special. I grew up in front of these people, and now they are seeing me as an older young man.”
Bryant was 19 points shy of the record set by Chamberlain on March 2, 1962, in a sparsely attended game in Hershey, Pa.
“That’s unthinkable,” Bryant said of Chamberlain’s mark. “It’s pretty exhausting to think about it.”
Bryant, hampered in recent weeks by a sore ankle, a balky wrist and sore hips, had 27 points in the third quarter, making 11 of 15 shots as the Lakers came screaming back from an 18-point deficit to take a 91-85 lead.
He had 28 in the fourth quarter, passing Baylor’s franchise record with a 14-footer from the right side with 4:25 to play.
He then vaulted past Chamberlain’s second-highest individual effort, 78 points, and into second place all-time after making the third of three free throws with 1:47 to play. Chamberlain scored 78 for Philadelphia against the Lakers in a triple-overtime game in December 1961.
Jackson, who coached Jordan and played against Chamberlain, called Bryant’s performance “something to behold.”
“I wasn’t keeping track on what he had, and when I turned to [assistant Frank Hamblen] and said, ‘I think I better take him out now,’ ... he said, ‘I don’t think you can. He has 77 points,’ ” Jackson said. “So we stayed with it until he hit 80.”
But Jackson was also true to his team-first approach.
“It’s not exactly the way you want to have a team win a game,” he said. “But when you have to win a game, it’s great to have that weapon to be able to do it. I’ve seen some remarkable games, but I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
The Lakers, coming off a listless loss Friday in Phoenix, were equally lethargic for part of Sunday’s game.
The Laker defense was soft and compliant, allowing the Raptors to make 24 of 39 shots (61.5%) in the first half. The Laker offense, on the other hand, struggled against the Raptors’ zone defense, making only 20 of 50 shots (40%) in the first half. Lamar Odom was particularly ineffective, going scoreless in the half, missing all four of his shots and totaling three assists and one rebound.
The Lakers trailed at halftime, 63-49.
Matt Bonner’s three-pointer gave the Raptors a 69-51 lead with 9:55 left in the third quarter, but then the Lakers began extending their defense, bothering the Raptors with half-court traps.
Bryant was also a bother.
“We have four days off coming up here, and I would have been sick as a dog if we would have lost this game,” Bryant said. “I just wanted to step up and inspire us to play well, and it turned into something special.”
As the Lakers seemed to be slipping toward a third straight loss, Bryant seethed and had little to say to his teammates.
“He was ticked off,” said Odom, who finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. “And it was worse because he wasn’t saying anything. Nothing. That’s when it’s bad for them.”
Bryant was human, after all, in one area: His team-record string of 62 consecutive free throws ended when he missed one with 56.7 seconds left in the second quarter.
“I wanted to continue that streak,” Bryant said afterward, feigning anger.
Instead, he set two other team records, again taking history along for a ride.
How he scored
Kobe Bryant’s scoring breakdown in Sunday’s game:
Field goals-attempts* 28-46
Free throws made-attempts 18-20
Total points 81
Source: Associated Press
*Made seven of 13 three-point attempts.