I'd put it right up there. But this was Wilt vs. wilt. Those were the Raptors in the opponent shirts who, lacking a big man in the middle, frontcourt depth and a stalwart perimeter defender, have been routinely ripped by swingmen this season.
|All Kobe needed was the right opponent. Enter the Raptors.|
Call the roll: Antawn Jamison on opening night (29) ... Richard Jefferson the next time out (35) ... Rashard Lewis (41) ... Rickey Davis AND Paul Pierce on the same night (28 each). The past couple of weeks have been particularly galling, starting with Vince Carter's 42 (including that dagger, and WWE posing), followed by Kobe and, the following night in Denver, 37 more from Carmelo Anthony.
I'm not taking anything away from Kobe here. He was/is amazing, that string of 45-plus nights no fluke, that 62 points against Dallas in three quarters the indicator that this kind of bomb was ready to drop. All he needed was the right kind of target, and the Raptors obligingly walked out at the Staples Centre with a neon circle on their backs. (POSTSCRIPT: After reviewing the PVR evidence, I've put together my best forensic reconstruction of the scene of the crime. Check out the breakdown below.)
There's a school of thought out there that, with the addition of Gene Keady in December, the Raptors have improved defensively. Alas, it never has seemed that way to my eyes, and the numbers don't bear it out -- during that horrible November, the Raptors allowed their opponents to shoot a generous .492, 29th of 30 teams in the NBA. They've improved that all the way to .490 now -- 29th of 30 in the NBA.
More: Opponents are actually shooting the 3 significantly better (.368) now than they were in November (.328). But the Raptors have improved their rebounding deficit slightly, and opponents' scoring is down slightly (102.73 now, down from 104.3 in Nov.; where the Raptors have improved since that opening month is on offence).
Morris Peterson is the closest thing the Raptors have to a competent perimeter defender. Jalen Rose and Jose Calderon are pylons, and Joey Graham, who came in with a rep for defence, has been just awful and was benched in Denver. Double teams? Sam Mitchell, who's not much for adjustments, doesn't send them too often, and when he does (like on that last Carter play, Rose getting help from Calderon), it is like watching two blades of grass going against a lawn mower. Don't expect anyone to foul a Kobe hard, either, much less put him on his ass.
Everyone talks about the Raptors' lack of a centre. But the problems here go deeper than that. They're soft overall, and they lack perimeter defence. Kobe Bryant exposed that -- he shredded them. Made history, too.
The breakdown on Kobe Bryant's 81-point night:
24 points vs Morris Peterson (11 points on jump shots including one 3-point, 6 points on drives, 7/7 free throws = 24 points).
16 points vs Jalen Rose (13 points on jumpers including three 3-point, 3/4 FTs).
12 points vs Joey Graham (3 on jumpers including a 3-pt shot, 2 on drives, 7/7 free throws).
10 in transition (6 on drives, one 3-pointer, 1/2 FTs).
8 vs Eric Williams (four on jumpers, four on drives)
4 vs Jose Calderon (two on a dunk, two on a jumper).
7 vs Raptors zone (all on jumpers, including one 3-pointer).
From what I could see, Raptors doubled him once while playing man, forcing a timeout, and once while in a zone, creating a turnover.
Related Raptor bloggin' links:
Raptorblog: "Jalen was one of four Raptors I counted who suffered the indignity of trying to throw a blanket over a nuclear explosion. Mo Pete, Jalen, Joey Graham and Jose Calderon took turns revealing their tragic inferiority to this higher grade of athlete."
J.E. Skeets: "Dear Kobe, you're a dick ... Luke Ridnour."
Raptors HQ: "With each unbelievable shot that he hit Kobe seemed more invincible and you could see an impending sense of doom spread rapidly through the Raptors. In fact, it was akin to a prisoner being led to the guillotine…the team had simply accepted their fate and that they were destined to lose."