for this game

Kobe hits for 61 to set MSG scoring mark as Lakers romp

Feb 3, 2009 - 5:35 AM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant, whether he admits it or not, always seems in perpetual pursuit of Michael Jordan. For at least one night, he got the upper hand.

Bryant scored 61 points to set the all-time scoring record at the current Madison Square Garden - previously held by Bernard King - as the Los Angeles Lakers outclassed the New York Knicks, 126-117, on Monday.

The superstar guard notched his 24th career 50-point game, surpassing the 60-point performance by former Knicks great King on December 25, 1984.

With everything short of a wagging tongue, Bryant soaked up the big city adulation that used to be aimed at his idol, Jordan, who held the scoring mark for an opponent at MSG with 55 points in 1995 - a famous outburst known simply as the "double-nickel."

"I didn't know that was a record but I watched the game actually when (Jordan) had that game," said Bryant, whose talent, competitiveness and mannerisms have been likened to those of Jordan.

"Just ohhing and ahhing and just marveling at the performance. I'm sure we all were."

Jordan's game was even more impressive, considering that it was just his fifth since returning from a nearly two-year hiatus to play baseball. Lakers coach Phil Jackson guided both men.

"Michael was coming back off a year and a half off," Jackson said. "He wasn't really totally himself as a player yet. We just stuck him in the post that particular night."

Bryant had no such rust, hitting 19-of-31 shots from the field and 20-of-20 from the free-throw line. He also nailed 3-of-6 from the arc.

The performance earned a respectful MVP chant from the Garden's fans, including a large contingent in purple and gold. He garnered that respect by setting the NBA's season-high scoring performance but, remarkably, falling 20 shy of his career-best effort.

"This place is special because, the fans, they'll boo you the whole game but they appreciate the game," Bryant said. "It felt great to get that reaction from these fans because they love what you do, and it's a great performance and being able to celebrate that moment it felt great."

Bryant, who smashed his season high of 41 points, torched the Toronto Raptors for 81 - the second-best output in NBA history - on January 22, 2006.

The reigning MVP scored 34 points in the first half Monday, the second-best mark in a half this season. Carmelo Anthony hit for 36 points on December 10, when he tied an NBA record with 33 points in the third quarter.

In this one, the fourth quarter was when Bryant really had the Garden buzzing, hitting three free throws to give him 57 points and make it 119-100 with 3:56 left. The troika from the stripe broke Jordan's mark and forged the largest lead of the game.

After nailing a difficult jumper off a reverse pivot, Bryant added two free throws with 2:31 left to surpass King, cap his memorable night and provide perhaps the greatest performance at the current MSG, which opened in February 1968.

"The building is special because it's the last one left," Bryant said. "We have the Boston Garden, which I never played in, the (Great Western Forum) and then there's this building. This is the last one that holds all the memories of all the great players."

For his part, Bryant created his own memorable night, one the Knicks likely never will forget.

"He made some unbelievable shots," said New York coach Mike D'Antoni, who won a gold medal with Bryant last summer as an assistant coach for Team USA. "We didn't really want to double all the time because he will find other guys.

"He does it every night. He just happened to get a little bit more points tonight. This guy is really good."

The Knicks, ironically, will entertain the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, when LeBron James takes center stage in midtown Manhattan. Bryant's foil in a race for the title of the league's best player hit for 50 points here on March 5, 2008.

Bryant, for his part, had it going from the start, netting 18 points in the first quarter en route to his remarkable first-half total, which provided a 65-54 lead for Los Angeles at intermission.

"He had an amazing performance and I give him all the credit in the world," Knicks guard Chris Duhon said. "But we were right in there tonight. He shot 70 something percent for 61 points. I don't care who you are. You are not going to win that."

However, New York started the third quarter with a 13-2 run, capped by David Lee's two free throws with 8:28 left in the period to pull it within 69-67. That's as close as the Knicks got the rest of the way.

Pau Gasol collected 31 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers, who played their first game without Andrew Bynum. The star center will be out eight to 12 weeks while recovering from a sprained right knee suffered in Saturday's victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Al Harrington scored 24 points for the Knicks, who had their three-game winning streak snapped. They will host the Boston Celtics on Friday, two days after their showdown with the Cavaliers.

New York was denied its first four-game winning streak since 2006 - a string which seemed doomed even before the Knicks took the floor Monday.

"He didn't have any smiles. He wasn't playing no games and he was out to kill," Lakers forward Trevor Ariza said of Bryant. "It looked like it, and he did that. I seen it before we even got to the arena.

"On the bus, he didn't really say much. He was just focused and, when someone is hot, you give them the ball and get out of the way."