Kobe Turns 40: Looking Back At Kobe Bryant’s 40-Point Game Streak
By Brian Martin
In celebration of Kobe Bryant’s 40th birthday, we look back at his remarkable run of 40-point games during the 2002-03 season.
From Feb. 6-23, 2003, Kobe scored at least 40 points in nine consecutive games, which tied Michael Jordan for the fourth-longest such streak in NBA history. Only the great Wilt Chamberlain ever put together more 40-point games in a row than Kobe or Michael.
Most consecutive games, 40 or more points
- 14: Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia, Dec. 8—Dec. 30, 1961
- 14: Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia, Jan. 11—Feb. 1, 1962
- 10: Wilt Chamberlain, San Francisco, Nov. 9—Nov. 25, 1962
- 9: Michael Jordan, Chicago, Nov. 28—Dec. 12, 1986
- 9: Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers, Feb. 2—Feb. 23, 2003
In fact, no other player has ever had more than five consecutive 40-point games in league history; Elgin Baylor (Dec. 11-17, 1962) and Allen Iverson (Apr. 7-14, 1997) each reached five straight, while no active player has more than four straight (Russell Westbrook Feb. 26 to March 3, 2017).
Using the Player Streak tool, we can look back to the 1983-84 and examine the last 34 seasons of box scores. During that stretch, there have only been 10 streaks of four or more 40-point games. Kobe has six of those streaks, Jordan has two, while Iverson and Westbrook have the other two.
During his nine-game streak, Kobe averaged 44.0 points per game, topping the 41.6 average of Jordan’s nine-game streak. Kobe’s two 50-point games during the streak helped boost his average. The Lakers went 7-2 (.778) during Kobe’s streak and would go on to finish the season 50-32 (.610).
Kobe’s average stat line during his nine-game 40-point streak:
- Games: 9
- Minutes: 41.0
- Points: 44.0
- Rebounds: 5.2
- Assists: 3.4
- Steals: 2.6
- Blocks: 0.9
- Field Goal %: 49.6%
- 3-Point %: 47.1%
- Free Throw %: 83.2%
- Plus/Minus: Plus-11.2
Let’s break the streak down game-by-game:
Game 1: Feb. 6, 2003 at New York Knicks
In the final game before the All-Star break, Kobe began his 40-point streak with a 46-point performance at Madison Square Garden in New York. At the time, this was Kobe’s highest scoring game in the World’s Most Famous Arena. Six years later he would drop 61 at The Garden, which remains the most points ever scored by an opposing player in the building.
Game 2: Feb. 11, 2003 vs. Denver Nuggets
Kobe needed just 31 minutes to put up 42 points on the Nuggets in a Lakers blowout. Of all the games in the streak, Kobe made the fewest field goals (12) and matched his fewest 3-pointers (1) in this game. On this day, Kobe did his damage from the free throw line with 17 of his 42 points coming from the charity stripe.
Game 3: Feb. 12, 2003 at Denver Nuggets
In the second night of a home-and-home back-to-back with the Nuggets, Kobe had the Nuggets feeling a sense of déjà vu. For the second straight night, Kobe finished a plus-37 in 31 minutes on the court. If we break down his playing time to the second, this was the least time he played of any game in the streak (31:20, eight fewer seconds than his first meeting with the Nuggets), but it was his second-highest scoring game. Kobe averaged 1.65 points per minute while on the court, as Denver became the only team to lose to Kobe twice during the streak.
Game 4: Feb. 14, 2003 vs. San Antonio Spurs
While Kobe extended his 40-point game streak to four, this was the first time his scoring prowess did not produce a win as the Lakers fell to the Spurs by eight points. A key stat from this game was Kobe’s lack of free throw shooting; he made (4) and attempted (6) the fewest free throws of any game in the streak. He also matched his fewest 3-point attempts (3) as the Spurs defense took away high-efficiency shots.
Game 5: Feb. 16, 2003 vs. New York Knicks
The Lakers suffered their second and last loss during the Kobe 40-point game streak as the Knicks avenged their loss from 10 days prior by defeating the Lakers in L.A. This was the first of three games in the streak that Kobe scored exactly 40 points. Kobe’s 45.2 percent shooting from the field was his second least accurate showing during the streak. This was also the first of three games during the streak that Shaquille O’Neal did not play due to a sore knee.
Game 6: Feb. 18, 2003 vs. Houston Rockets
After dropping consecutive games to the Spurs and Knicks, Kobe and the Lakers rebounded with a double-overtime win over the Houston Rockets. Kobe set a career-high by playing 54 minutes (something he would match two times later in his career, but never top) in this game and finished with 52 points and 7 assists - the top marks in each category during the streak. This was also the only time that Kobe finished a perfect 100% from the free throw line.
Game 7: Feb. 19, 2003 at Utah Jazz
The third and final road game of the streak saw Kobe drop an even 40 points in 40 minutes. This was the third straight game that the Lakers did not have Shaquille O’Neal as Kobe’s 40 points accounted for 43.0 percent of the Lakers’ 93 points in the game. Kobe had 39 points when he was fouled with eight seconds to play in the game. After missing the first free throw, he made the second to hit the 40-point threshold and maintain the streak.
Game 8: Feb. 21, 2003 vs. Portland Trail Blazers
While Kobe’s offense is rightfully getting most of the attention here, it must be noted that this game against Portland was his best defensive game of the streak. Kobe finished with five steals and two blocks to go with his usual 40 points in 42 minutes on the court. For the second straight game, Kobe’s 40th point came in the closing 10 seconds as he hit a running jumper with nine seconds to play to reach 40 and keep the streak alive.
Game 9: Feb. 23, 2003 vs. Seattle
In what would end up being the final game of the 40-point streak, Kobe struggled with his shot as he made just 13 of 34 (38.2%) shot attempts. His 13 field goals were just one better than his lowest game during the streak, while his single 3-pointer made matched his previous total from the first Denver game. Once again, the free throw line was where Kobe did much of his damage, shooting 14-16 as more than a third (34.1%) of his points came on free throws.
Kobe would finish his career with 122 career 40-point games during the regular season (ranked third behind Wilt’s 271 and Jordan’s 173) and 13 more in the playoffs. In those 135 combined games when Kobe scored 40 points or more, the Lakers posted a 92-43 (.681) record. The team was even better during this nine-game streak (7-2, .778) of 40-point games that may not be matched for a long time.
There are plenty of talented scorers in today’s game, especially with the rising number of 3-pointers being shot and made across the league, so the opportunity is there. But it takes something extra to score that many points each and every night over multiple weeks.
Wilt, Michael, Kobe. That’s the list … at least for the foreseeable future.