Bryant's 61 sets record for most points at MSG
NEW YORK (AP) — Pau Gasol wasn't looking a couple of times when Kobe Bryant attempted a free throw. So when the Madison Square Garden fans cheered, Gasol assumed that meant his Los Angeles Lakers teammate missed.
But on this record-setting night, even the opposing crowd wanted to see history.
In the 41 years since the current Garden opened, no player has scored more points than Bryant did Monday. He finished with 61, breaking Bernard King's mark of 60 for the Knicks on Christmas 1984 against New Jersey.
Bryant shot 19-of-31 from the floor and made all 20 foul shots as the Lakers beat the Knicks 126-117. He surpassed King's total by hitting two free throws with 2:33 left.
"When he came to the bench in the second quarter, he kind of had this dazed look on his face," teammate Lamar Odom said. "Some call it the zone. He was just in another world. I don't think it probably mattered what shot he took or how he took it. It probably would've went in."
Bryant is often mischievous when he has one of those in-the-zone nights, smiling after shots, joking with opponents. But in the Lakers' first game since losing center Andrew Bynum to a knee injury, Bryant wasn't goofing around.
"I noticed that, too," coach Phil Jackson said. "I noticed his mood was very determined, very somber about him."
Jackson also was the coach when Michael Jordan set the previous Garden record for most points by an opponent with 55 for Chicago on March 28, 1995. He recalled that Jordan was playing in just his fifth game in 22 months.
"He wasn't really totally himself as a player yet," Jackson said. "We just stuck him in the post."
He added, "Both remarkable performances."
Bryant said he didn't know Jordan owned that record.
"But I watched the game, actually, when he had that game," he said, "just oohing and aahing and just marveling at the performance, as I'm sure we all were."
Bryant left to a standing ovation with 1:48 to go. The many Lakers fans in the building — or maybe they're just Kobe fans — made their presence felt the whole night, chanting "MVP!" when he shot free throws.
"I was totally surprised," Jackson said.
The Knicks played their first game at the current Madison Square Garden, known as "Garden IV," in February 1968.
Bryant's night quickly became the talk of the league.
"I've never had a night like that," said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who scored 32 in Miami's win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night. "You could tell, just watching the highlights, he had a pep in his step and he was on a mission. With Bynum out, he's going to have to do a little more, and I think he understands that. I mean, 61 points, that's Kobe — that's all you can say."
Hearing Wade, Heat rookie Michael Beasley became wide-eyed.
"Kobe scored 61?" he asked. "You serious?"
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.