On Friday, March 24, Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns put on a dazzling display of scoring in front of an unexpecting crowd in the Boston Garden. The Suns, who were only a half-game above the last place Lakers in the Western Conference were playing games down the stretch that had no real significant value. Booker, age 20, in his second season in the NBA may have established himself as an elite player with his 70 points against the Celtics.
Eleven years, two months and two days had passed since Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers scorched the Toronto Raptors for 81 points, the second most in a single game. Bryant has etched himself into NBA lore for his outstanding performance that will cement his legacy long after he is gone.
With his play last month, Booker has drawn comparisons to Bryant’s historic game. If looking at points it’s clear that Bryant has the upper hand in who outplayed the other. The way to decide who played the better game lies within the statistics.
Field Goal Percentage
When looking at the stat line for Booker’s game against the Celtics, he shot 21-40 from the floor. That equates to 52.5% of his shots being made. Shooting above 50% in a game is a notable stat, which makes what Bryant did even more impressive. Known for his “ballhog” tendencies, it should come as no surprise that a game in which he scored 81 points, Bryant took 46 shots. Normally, seeing a player shoot that many times would make a coach rip his hair out, but Bryant made 28 of those shots, which is an absurd 60.9% from the floor.
While both men put up staggering numbers, Bryant making over 60% of his 46 shots is a stat that cannot be overlooked.
Advantage: Kobe Bryant
Ability to Get to the Free Throw Line
When shooting 40 or more shots in a game, it is likely that a player will get his fair share of trips to the free throw line. Not only does a player have to get to the line, but they also have to make their shots. When seeing these players light up the scoreboards, converting their foul shots is a sure-fire way to help raise their point total. Bryant, an overall versatile player, reached the foul line 20 times, which is more than average considering he liked to do some of his scoring using his jump shot. Of those 20, Bryant made 18 of them. Booker, also a versatile player, worked his way around the paint, drawing fouls from Celtics players trying to stop the 6’6 guard from scoring easy layups. Booker made it to the foul line 26 times and made 24 of those shots.
Booker’s ability to get to the rim allowed him to draw more fouls than Bryant even though both players had similar shot selections.
Advantage: Devin Booker
Contribution to the Team
When looking solely as the points scored, it is easy to think that because both men scored a majority of their teams’ points, that they did their part as a teammate. Bryant grabbed six rebounds, blocked two shots, picked up three steals and shelled out two assists in 42 of the game’s 48 minutes. Bryant averaged 5.2 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 1.4 steals and 4.7 assists per game throughout his career. When looking at the number that aren’t his 81 points, Bryant played an average game in the other aspects.
Booker, while primarily known for his scoring, played a solid game in stats other than his shooting. He grabbed eight rebounds, six assists, and three steals while playing in 45 of 48 minutes. While his career is not even two years old, these numbers are above Booker’s averages per game.
Bryant will never be known as a team-oriented player which makes Booker’s ability to help the Suns in multiple factors other than scoring a testament to his more selfless style of play.
Advantage: Devin Booker
This category would seem to fit along with how each player contributed to the team, but this focuses more on how each man defended his counterpart(s) on the other team. Bryant, who played at the shooting guard positon, was responsible for covering Jalen Rose. Despite not being heralded for his defensive prowess, Bryant’s offensive explosion may have been his best form of defense. Rose, an average NBA player, shot 3 for 11 from the floor and scored 17 points, 11 of which came from the foul line. Whether the pressure came from Bryant’s shooting or his defense, he shut Rose down for the duration of the game.
Also at the shooting guard position, Booker defended Jaylen Brown who only played 25 minutes in the game. Brown split time with Marcus Smart who also saw time at the shooting guard position. Combined, Brown and Smart scored 18 points and shot 5 for 21 from the floor. Even though they did not have great offensive games, the guard duo contributed in other ways as Brown had seven rebounds and Smart dished out six assists.
The statistics for both players were above average as they both played similar defensive games. It is also harder to compare the factors of the Celtics rotating their players more often than the Raptors did against Bryant. With his offensive showing and defensive pressure, Bryant took Rose out of the game and made him a non-factor.
Advantage: Kobe Bryant
There are many different variables to consider when trying to compare the different game situations and how they affected each of these epic performances. With Bryant, the Lakers were 22-19, playing a horrible Raptors team with only 14 wins to their 27 losses. The Raptors were not going to make the playoffs, while the Lakers were battling to find a way into the postseason. A win for the Lakers held a higher magnitude than a loss for the Raptors. With neither team dominating their opponent, this game was competitive until the final minutes. The Lakers pulled out the victory by a score of 122-104. Even with a final 18-point margin, the Lakers needed every one of Bryant’s 81 points to help secure the win.
As previously mentioned, Booker’s Suns were not a playoff bound team so there was no harm in letting the 20-year old take as many shots as he wanted in chase of history. Even with the Celtics trying to better their ranking in the playoffs, they never seemed to make an effort to stop Booker from scoring. Unlike Bryant’s game, this one was not as close as the score indicated. The Suns lost 130-120, but the Celtics took control in the first quarter and never looked back. At one point, the score was 22-3 in favor of the Celtics and they seemed to put the game in cruise control, letting Booker run wild without the risk of losing their lead. Another factor to consider was that towards the end of the game, the Suns were fouling on purpose so Booker could have more chances to amass the 70-point threshold.
The intensity of Bryant’s game and the fact that it was competitive makes his performance more impressive.
Advantage: Kobe Bryant
In an era which worships high scoring and fast-paced play, Booker and Bryant recorded two of the best scoring performances since Wilt Chamberlain showed his other-worldly talent by putting up 100 points against the Knicks in 1962. Nobody can deny that Devin Booker played superb basketball as he became only the fifth different player to reach 70 points in a game. Kobe Bryant’s 81-point onslaught of the helpless Raptors defense edges out Booker and remains one of the greatest performances in the last 55 years.