The Sunday night matchup between the Indiana Pacers and the Los Angeles Lakers came one day after the sixth anniversary of Kobe Bryant's 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors. Don't think for a second that Kobe Bryant didn't know that, too. He started the game in attack mode, dribbling past defenders when they bellied up, shooting silky mid-range jumpers when they sagged off and working hard off the ball to get premium looks at the rim. It looked so much different than the relentless performance he masterminded six years and one day ago against the Raptors at the Staples Center -- he only scored 33 points on 14-30 shooting and 0-3 on three-point attempts on this this night, as opposed to 81 points on 28-46 shooting and 7-13 from beyond the arc against Toronto -- and after pouring in 31 points during the first three quarters, Kobe couldn't quite close the deal when his team needed him most. After the Indiana defense forced Bryant to defer to teammates on two of the Lakers' final possessions down the stretch, he got the look he wanted on the second-to-last possession.
With the Lakers trailing 97-94 and just 8.7 seconds left, Kobe worked a pendulum-like route along the top of the key on the sideline inbounds play to create misdirection and open him up for a hand-off look from Pau Gasol that created a clean look at a three to tie the game. Once the execution of the play set the moment in motion, the Staples Center crowd collectively held their breath and expected something great, but this time it didn't come. The shot clanged off the back of the rim, but as the TV cameras lingered on Bryant after the shot, all he could do was smile. A missed opportunity. Two points on 1-6 shooting in the fourth quarter. Not every performance can be as perfect was the message. From there the Pacers executed at the line to seal the game, and a final layup by Gasol at the buzzer set the final score at 98-96 in favor of Indiana.
While the Lakers leaned heavily on Kobe, the Pacers continued their offense-by-committee approach. Entering the game, seven players on Indiana averaged more than 10 points per contest: Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, David West, Darren Collison, Paul George, Tyler Hansbrough and George Hill. On the night, six of those seven players scored in double figures again (Hansbrough had zero points). In the first half they fed West off of the pick and roll for 15 points on 7-10 shooting and 6 rebounds, but he screeched to halt on offense after that and missed his last five shots to finish with 15 points and 9 rebounds. No problem. The Pacers simply moved on to their next options. First they rode a three-point barrage from Paul George, Danny Granger and George Hill in the third quarter, and then they turned to Roy Hibbert in post isolations down the stretch to take the lead and seal it.
Kobe shot more times than any two Pacers players combined on the night, but for Indiana that's the blueprint. They now sit at an impressive 11-4 overall and have managed to create an early cushion in the standings while playing one of the softest schedules in the league. Indiana did not look outclassed or intimidated at any point during the game, and managed to hand the Lakers just their second loss at Staples Center this season.
Outside of Kobe, the Lakers didn't have too many performances that stood out. Andrew Bynum experimented with his left-handed hook throughout the night, and the results were mixed, but he still managed to put up a respectable 16 points and 8 rebounds. Metta World Peace broke out of his funk a bit as he added 11 points and scored in double figures for the first time since a 10-point game against the Denver Nuggets on January 1. Finally, Pau Gasol struggled from the field (4-12 shooting), but helped out the offense by dishing out a season-high 10 assists. Nevertheless, the balance of the Pacers' attack, coupled with a 10-18 night from three-point range, proved too much for Kobe and the Lakers to handle.
The narrow 98-96 loss drops the Lakers to a disappointing 10-8 overall, while the Pacers now occupy the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Whether you are a Lakers fan, Pacers fan or just a general NBA enthusiast looking for entertainment, here is a three-minute compilation of that classic 81-point performance to check out. As Sunday's game proved, nothing else will ever be quite the same.