Things like Power Rankings and who had the best week and who plays who moving forward are so trivial in the grand scheme of life.
Such are the realizations when tragedy strikes.
If there's anyone who habitually found strength to push past the darkest hours it's Kobe Bryant. "He would have wanted me to play." That was Carmelo Anthony speaking to reporters following Portland's game on Sunday.
And so we try to pick up the pieces and push forward with the acknowledment that there is no returning to normal as we know it. Not yet, and in some ways, perhaps not ever. Eventually there will be a new normal, even if it feels nothing like normal.
MORE: A letter to Kobe Bryant
The games will go on and eventually we'll get back to debating whether the Bucks can win it all or if the Clippers should make a move or if the Rockets could unseat the two teams in LA. Power Rankings will return in it's typical form next week but for now, here's a look at this week's order framed through the lens of Kobe.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
This week it's all about the purple and gold. There isn't a best game to pick against the Lakers because Kobe never played against the Lakers.
20 years. 1 team.
Two jerseys retired by one team. 8 and 24 would have already lived on forever in Lakers' lore. Suddenly, those numbers transcend one team.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Date: March 24, 2006
Kobe stats: 43 points, 12-26 FG, 14-14 FT
Remember that magical 2005-06 season? The one where Bryant averaged a scorching 35.4 points per game while torching all comers on a nightly basis?
His only 40-point game against the Bucks came in that season when he finished with 43 including 12 in the fourth quarter in a dramatic 5-point win.
3. LA Clippers
Date: January 7, 2006
Kobe stats: 50 points, 17-41 FG, 8 assists, 8 rebounds
The 2005-06 Clippers were good. That team snapped a streak of 12 straight losing seasons and with the Lakers still searching for solid ground in the post-Shaq era, the Clippers had an opening to steal some LA shine.
Kobe wouldn't allow it.
In a January "home" game for the Clippers who entered with a better record, Bryant went off for 50 points including 40 in the second half to lead the Lakers back from a double-digit deficit. Down one with the ball in his hands in the closing seconds... against four defenders... well... you already know what happened.
4. Utah Jazz
Date: April 13, 2016
Kobe stats: 60 points including 23 in the fourth quarter, 22-50 FG
The final game of his career.
Game number 1,566 of 1,566 including the regular season and playoffs.
No player in NBA history has ever gone out like this as his 60 points is the most ever by a player in his final game.
5. Denver Nuggets
Date: February 12, 2003
Kobe stats: 51 points, 15-28 FG
Bryant poured in 51 points in three quarters. The Lakers led by 33 entering the fourth quarter led by Kobe who dropped 20 in the first quarter, 16 in the second quarter and 15 in the third quarter.
6. Toronto Raptors
Date: January 22, 2006
Kobe stats: 81 points
Let's be real. The 81 is all that really matters here.
The 2nd-most points scored in any game in NBA history and the most ever by a guard.
Next to 8 and 24, the number 81 simply stands for Kobe.
7. Miami Heat
Date: March 4, 2012
Kobe stats: 33 points, 14-23 FG
Some might go with the Christmas Day game against Shaquille O'Neal in 2004 when Bryant scored 42 in a loss. That's certainly more memorable but Kobe's about winning.
So instead, I'm rolling with a March game against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade when he finished with a game-high 33 points in a tight win against the eventual NBA champs.
8. Boston Celtics
Date: June 17, 2010
Kobe stats: 23 points, 6-24 FG, 15 rebounds
OK so maybe this isn't Kobe's best game against the Celtics.
He had others where he scored more points. He certainly had others where he shot the ball better.
But while "6-24" may have become somewhat of a running joke, it's impossible to deny the importance of this game in Bryant's overall legacy as a champion.
Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Down entering the fourth quarter. Bryant scored 10 points in the final frame (eight of them from the free throw line) to help will his team to a second straight title. Also underrated? The fact that he finished with 15 rebounds, five more than anyone on the Celtics. This game delivered Kobe his fifth and final ring.
9. Houston Rockets
Date: December 15, 2006
Kobe stats: 53 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists
A double overtime thriller with Kobe outlasting a Herculean effort by Yao Ming who himself finished with 35 points, 15 rebounds and 8 blocks.
Bryant scored seven points in the second overtime and nearly finished with a 50-point triple-double.
10. Dallas Mavericks
Date: December 20, 2005
Kobe stats: 62 points, 18-31 FG, 22-25 FT
Kobe 62, Mavericks 61.
That's what the scoreboard read at the end of the third quarter. As it turns out, this game merely foreshadowed Kobe's 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors which came the following month.
11. Philadelphia 76ers
Date: January 6, 2006
Kobe stats: 48 points, 19-29 FG, 7-7 3-pt FG, 10 rebounds
There were more memorable moments.
The 2001 NBA Finals and the All-Star Game in Philadelphia come to mind.
But Kobe's best game against the 76ers came at home during the 2005-06 season when he dropped 48 in a duel with Allen Iverson.
12. Indiana Pacers
Date: June 14, 2000
Kobe stats: 28 points, 14-27 FG, 6 points in final 2:00 of OT
This is the game that Shaq knew Kobe was the real deal.
Maybe that respect was a little overdue. And maybe it was a begrudging form of respect.
But if you're making a list of the greatest Kobe Bryant playoff games, it's hard to start anywhere else but Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals.
The Lakers had not yet won a championship and if the Pacers won Game 4 to even the series, who knows what may have transpired. With 2:33 left in overtime, O'Neal fouled out. A 21-year-old Bryant cooly took over, knocking down a pair of clutch jumpers to keep Indiana at bay and the rest is history.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder
Date: January 14, 2008
Kobe stats: 48 points, 21-44 FG
During Kevin Durant's rookie season when the Thunder were still the Seattle SuperSonics, Bryant served up a masterpiece in Key Arena as he finished with 48 points in an overtime thriller. While a then 19-year-old Durant struggled, the then 29-year-old Bryant took over late and hit the game-winner with four seconds left in overtime.
14. Memphis Grizzlies
Date: March 22, 2007
Kobe stats: 60 points, 20-37 FG
One of two times that Bryant went for 60 on the road and the Lakers needed every last one of them. 36 of them came in the second half of a tight 121-119 win. Less than a year later, then Grizzly Pau Gasol would be teammates with Bryant on the Lakers.
15. San Antonio Spurs
Date: May 19, 2001
Kobe stats: 45 points, 19-35 FG, 19 rebounds
Game 1 of the 2001 Western Conference Finals.
Kobe takes over right away, scoring a game-high 12 points in the opening quarter. He went on to finish with 45, the most points he ever scored in 91 career games against the Spurs including the regular season and playoffs. That performance set the tone for a Lakers sweep as they'd go on to win a second straight NBA title.
16. Phoenix Suns
Date: May 4, 2006
Kobe stats: Playoff career-high 50 points
His only 50-point game in the playoffs came in Game 6 of the Lakers' 2006 1st Round series loss to the Suns. After missing a potential game winner at the regulation buzzer, Bryant scored 12 of his team's 13 points in overtime though it wasn't enough as they went on to lose 126-118. Though that series is remembered more for Bryant's bizarre Game 7 performance, he was utterly sensational in Game 6 in a game that somewhat gets lost in the shuffle given the game and series result.
17. Orlando Magic
Date: June 4, 2009
Kobe stats: 40 points, 16-34 FG, 8 assists, 8 rebounds
The best game that Kobe ever played in the NBA Finals.
In Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals, he unleashed a tour de force upon the Magic which set the stage for Bryant to capture his fourth NBA championship and first without Shaquille O'Neal. He had 30 in the second and third quarters combined, nearly matching Orlando's entire team (34).
This was the only time he topped 40 points in 37 career games in the Finals.
18. Portland Trail Blazers
Date: March 16, 2007
Kobe stats: 65 points, 23-39 FG
Another game in which he went off and the Lakers needed every last bit.
He dropped 24 in the fourth quarter including a game-tying 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to force overtime. In the OT period, he added nine more points including the go-ahead 3-pointer to put the Lakers up for good with 44 seconds left. This was also the first of four straight 50-point games for Bryant who followed this up with 50 against Minnesota, 60 at Memphis and .... (see the next one)
19. New Orleans Pelicans
Date: March 23, 2007
Kobe stats: 50 points, 16-29 FG, 16-16 FT
... 50 on the road against New Orleans!
On the second night of a back-to-back, Bryant torched the then New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets for 50.
By finishing with 50 yet again, he became just the second player in NBA history to do it in four straight games and the first since Wilt Chamberlain in 1962.
20. Brooklyn Nets
Date: February 13, 2001
Kobe stats: 38 points, 14-25 FG, 8 rebounds, 5 assists
More late-game heroics for Kobe.
Tied up at 110-110 in overtime, Kobe drove and finished for the And-1 with just 4.8 seconds remaining.
21. Sacramento Kings
Date: May 31, 2001
Kobe stats: 48 points, 15-29 FG, 16 rebounds
28 points in the second half alone to finish off the sweep of the Kings in the 2001 Conference Semifinals. Bryant played all 48 minutes, the only player in this game to go wire-to-wire. His 16 rebounds were the most he ever hauled down in a playoff game.
22. Chicago Bulls
Date: December 17, 1997
Kobe stats: 33 points, 12-20 FG
So this one's cheating. He definitely had better games against the Bulls. And the Lakers did lose this by 21.
But this was a HUGE game. It was his second season and he'd go on to make his first All-Star team. It was in the United Center and against Michael Jordan. Shaq didn't play and even though Bryant was still coming off the bench, he delivered 33 points in 29 minutes, nearly keeping up with Jordan who finished with 36 and asked Bulls coach (and eventual Lakers coach) Phil Jackson to keep him in the game down the stretch even though it turned into a blowout.
"Kobe's a great young player who might one day take his throne," Bulls point guard Ron Harper said afterwards. "But I don't think Michael's ready to give his throne up yet."
23. Detroit Pistons
Date: March 15, 2001
Kobe stats: 39 points, 16-28 FG, 7 assists, 5 rebounds
16 points in the fourth quarter to erase a double-digit deficit.
A jumper with two seconds left to force overtime.
A jumper with 33 seconds left to take the lead for good in overtime.
If it feels like Kobe Bryant had one of these games against seemingly every team, it's because he did.
24. Charlotte Hornets
Date: December 29, 2006
Kobe stats: 58 points in 55 minutes
A triple overtime thriller and one of the only games on this list in which the Lakers lost. Bryant drilled a 3-pointer to force a third overtime with 22 seconds left in the second OT.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves
Date: March 18, 2007
Kobe stats: 50 points, 17-35 FG, 6 assists
Bigger than the game itself was the ensuing speculation of the summer of 2007. That was the summer in which the Lakers tried to trade for Kevin Garnett to pair with Kobe Bryant who still had yet to succeed on a grand scale without Shaquille O'Neal.
In this game, Kobe went for 50 while KG finished with 26-15-6. Both made the jump to high school in back-to-back drafts, both played with a competitive fire unmatched by anyone else in their era and both went on to face each other twice in the NBA Finals in 2008 and 2010 once Garnett ultimately moved on to Boston.
Contemporaries in the truest of forms, these two titans squared off a whopping 76 times including the regular season and playoffs.
26. Washington Wizards
Date: March 28, 2003
Kobe stats: 55 points, 15-29 FG, 9-13 3-pt FG
The double nickel.
Most think of Michael Jordan wearing No. 45 and dropping 55 in Madison Square Garden.
But Kobe had a double nickel of his own and it came in his final game against Jordan himself who finished with 23.
Honourable mention: the dual with Gilbert Arenas in 2006 in which Bryant finished with 45 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds and Arenas racked up 60-8-8.
27. Atlanta Hawks
Date: November 1, 2009
Kobe stats: 41 points, 15-29 FG, 8 rebounds, 5 steals
Kobe's only 40-point game against the Hawks came in the Lakers' third game of the season on the heels of winning the first of two back-to-back titles.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers
Date: January 13, 2012
Kobe stats: 42 points, 15-31 FG, 5 rebounds
It's impossible to think "Kobe vs. the Cavs" and not think about all of the games against LeBron James and/or Kyrie Irving.
Irving is on the short list of players most inspired and influenced by Bryant and in this game - the first time they ever played against each other - Bryant served up some lessons for a then 19-year-old Irving.
Bryant led all scorers in every quarter and finished with 42 points in the game.
This game stands out as one of the pre-eminent precursors to the memorable exchange between the two months later while training with Team USA ahead of the 2012 Olympics.
The very next season, Irving tried taking Kobe one-on-one in a game in Cleveland. Advantage, Kobe...
29. Golden State Warriors
Date: December 6, 2000
Kobe stats: 51 points, 18-35 FG, 8 assists, 7 rebounds
One of the most famous individual battles of Bryant's career as Antawn Jamison ALSO finished with 51 points in a game the Warriors squeaked by in overtime.
30. New York Knicks
Date: February 2, 2009
Kobe stats: 61 points, 19-31 FG, 20-20 FT
The most points ever scored by a visiting player at the current Madison Square Garden.
Truly one of the NBA's greatest showmen, OF COURSE it's Bryant who authored the best performance by a visitor in the world's most famous arena.
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