Better MSG Performance: Stephen Curry’s 54 or Kobe Bryant’s 61?

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The bright lights of New York City always seems to bring out the best in competitors, making for some brilliant performances at Madison Square Garden. Wilt Chamberlain alone had point outputs of 73, 62, 59, and 58 twice and it’s hard to forget about MJ dropping 55 points in the awkward number 45 jersey. Two of the more recent memorable performances include Kobe Bryant dropping 61 and Stephen Curry putting up 54, but which one was was more impressive? TOK’s Kevin Smith and Chris DiGioia were lucky enough to witness both historical performances live at the Garden, leaving them in total awe. Today they debate which star put on the better show.

Kevin Smith on Stephen Curry

To me, this shouldn’t even be up for debate. No, Curry wasn’t able to lead his team to victory, but he played a much more complete game than Kobe did. You could tell from tip-off that Bryant was just trying to score as many points as possible and cared more about his point total than playing within the context of the offense. It took Kobe 51 shots (19-31 from the field, 20-20 from the line) to get those 61 points. Sure, Curry scored seven less points, but he did it much more efficiently, shooting 18-28 from the field and 7-7 from the line. He fell one trey short of tying the NBA record for threes in a game, finishing his shooting clinic at 11-13 from behind the arc. More importantly, when the Knicks started doubling Curry, he was sure to make the right play and assisted on three straight possessions down the stretch to keep the Warriors in striking distance. Although he had the hot hand, he had no problem handing out seven dimes.

Curry also worked his magic against much stiffer competition. With David Lee suspended for the night, it was easier for the Knicks to focus all their attention (or at least try to) on him. Steph had to overcome a five-steal first half by Iman Shumpert, a 35-point output by Carmelo Anthony, and a monstrous 28-rebound effort by Tyson Chandler. The three players who logged the most time on the floor on the night that Kobe put up 61 were David Lee, Al Harrington, and Chris Duhon. Throw in the fact that they were coached by Mike “No D” D’Antoni and it’s simple to see  why it was so easy for Kobe to score so much. New York gave up 107.8 points per game that season, compared to the 95.8 that the defense that Curry faced puts up.

The Lakers would go on to win the championship that season and the Knicks were a push over with a roster randomly jumbled together in order to save cap space for the summer of 2010. Kobe didn’t play the game of basketball that night, he just played to score. The more complete and electrifying performance goes to Stephen Curry, hands down.

Chris DiGioia on Kobe Bryant

I couldn’t agree with my fellow TurnOnTheKnicks writer Kevin Smith any less, this argument shouldn’t be up for a debate. It’s Kobe Bean Bryant, or what many people would refer to him as, the Black Mamba. Curry’s individual shooting performance was off the charts don’t get me wrong, and his game was more rounded then Kobe’s when it comes it assists and boards, but he walked out of there with a loss. The Warriors couldn’t prevail behind Curry’s 11-13, second most three-pointers in an NBA game (Behind who? Oh yeah, Kobe Bryant’s all-time record of 12) historical outbreak. 

Speaking of historical, the simple fact that Kobe’s Madison Square Garden point record stands alone at the top with 61 elevates it’s credibility even more. He isn’t tied, he isn’t in second, third, or fourth place. So, how rare is it too even score 60 or more points in one game? The last time a player not named Kobe Bryant accomplished this task, was Gilbert Arenas’s 60 points in an overtime game during the 2006 season. The next two times before that, was Allen Iverson’s 60 points in 2005, and Tracy McGrady’s 62 points in 2004. It’s important to point out, these were all career highs, and one-time occurrences for these gifted players. Just to wrap the rarity of the Black Mamba’s performance up with a little more perspective, only these three players, alongside of him, have surpassed the 60 point mark in this entire decade. Did I mention Kobe did it four more times throughout that span on top of that? 

Basically, one can argue these performances marked highlight career moments for the players that reached this immaculate point total, but for Kobe, as they say, it’s another day at the office.

Kobe did have the advantage of shooting 20 free throws during the game, but that’s just his style of play, and he hit every single one. The Black Mamba surgically wills himself to the fee-throw line by putting the ball on the ground, drawing the contact, and essentially frustrating his defenders all night long. That’s called dictating the game at your own tempo, an ability only the greats have been shown too inherit.

The simple aura and pedigree that Kobe brings to the table every time he steps foot on the court, combined with the fact he set the record in the world’s most famous arena, creates a recipe for one of the most unforgettable nights in sports history.

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