Bryant teased and pleased a sold-out crowd that took turns booing him and saluting him with "MVP!" chants during an electrifying performance. He passed Michael Jordan's opponent record of 55 points at the present building, known as "Garden IV," when he hit three free throws with 3:56 remaining, then bettered Bernard King's mark of 60, set on Christmas Day 1984, with two more foul shots with 2:33 to play.
Bryant, who also finished with the highest-scoring game in the NBA this season, left to a loud ovation after the 24th 50-point game of his career. It was also his fifth 40-point game here.
added 31 points and 14 rebounds in the Lakers' first game since losing Bynum, their starting center, for eight to 12 weeks with a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee. They'll be fine without him if Bryant plays the way he did Monday, going 19-of-31 with an array of tough jumpers, powerful drives to the basket and perfect foul shooting. He also hit all 20 free throws.
It was the greatest scoring night in Garden history. Jordan had 55 points in 1995, and Bernard King had 60 in 1984 and now Bryant passes everyone with 61. Now, LeBron comes to the Garden on Wednesday night with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he doesn’t have the stomach for such single-minded shooting nights. James always wanted to be more Magic than Michael. Only Jordan did it three games into his comeback from a year and a half in minor league baseball, and Phil Jackson remembered, “He wasn’t really totally himself as a player. We just stuck him in the post that night.”
Bryant has become a better teammate, a better team player, but his core is unchanged: Ultimately, he goes it alone. As well as anyone since Jordan, he creates high drama and elevates himself to reach it. He started scoring fast and never stopped. The Knicks were props. They looked as liable to ask him for his autograph as they did try to defend him.