Kobe Bryant returns to Madison Square Garden two years after record-setting performance
Once Kobe Bryant steps onto the court at Madison Square Garden on Friday against the New York Knicks, it will mark the second return since etching his name into the arena record books in a performance that left the crowd both frustrated and amazed.
Bryant scored an arena-record 61 points on 19-of-31 shooting and converted a franchise record for free throws made without a miss (20) in the Lakers' 126-117 victory over the Knicks, providing a temporary distraction regarding the news that Andrew Bynum would sit out eight to 12 weeks because of a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee, another endless example of Bryant's immense scoring talent and further angst for longtime Knicks fan and film director Spike Lee.
"I think it's a combination of things -- [Bynum] going down, this kind of being a 'hump' game for us on this road trip, I felt like I needed to focus even more so than usual," Bryant told reporters, including The Times' Mike Bresnahan. "On a lighter note, I've got to go review this documentary I'm doing with Spike Lee after the game, and I didn't feel like sitting next to him and hearing him talk trash about the Knicks. That was added incentive as well, seriously."
Bryant is referring to Lee's project, "Kobe Doin Work," which detailed Bryant's approach to the game, his attention to detail and Bryant's own thoughts about what he sees on the floor. Kobe was certainly doing work against the Knicks. He didn't slow his scoring streak, as indicated by his 18 first-quarter points, 16 in the second, 12 in the third and 15 in the fourth. After Bryant scored on a twisting 12-footer with 3:24 left in the game, Bresnahan observed that even Lee couldn't help but crouch over in amazement. In turn, Bryant received a standing ovation and received endless "M-V-P" chants when he took a seat with 1:48 to play.
So what does this mean this time around? Well, the Knicks are obviously a much different team, with their major off-season acquisition of Amare Stoudemire, among other things, jump-starting them into a legitimate Eastern Conference team. But Bryant enters Friday's contest a day removed from the Lakers' 92-86 victory Thursday over the Boston Celtics where he spurred a second-half comeback by scoring 20 of his 23 points in the second half. Much like the performance at MSG, Bryant showcased vintage clutchness at TD Garden, including turnaround jumpers, drives to the basket and his competitive glare after each shot.
Don't mistake this for a one-man show, however. The Lakers also featured plenty of frontline depth, with Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom each dropping double figures. In similar fashion, Gasol had 31 points and 14 rebounds two years ago in New York, a near afterthought considering Bryant's record-setting performance. So even if the circumstances surrounding Friday night's game will be different, Bryant has shown that several things remain the same.
"This place is special because the fans will boo you the whole game but they appreciate the game," said Bryant to reporters after marking the fifth time he's dropped at least 40 points at MSG. "Tonight it felt great to get that reaction from these fans because it's just them saying, 'We love what you do.' "
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