New Orleans — It’s a notable anniversary, but not one that Pistons guard Jose Calderon keeps track of consciously. He remembers it clearly, though and still laughs about it when anyone brings it up.
Tuesday marked 13 years since Kobe Bryant’s 81-point outburst against the Toronto Raptors, on which Calderon played.
While former Michigan standout Jalen Rose gets most of the ribbing for guarding — or not guarding — Bryant in that game, Calderon knows his defensive stat line in the head-to-head matchup, in which Bryant scored four points against him.
“Lock-down defender,” Calderon joked. “(He was) 1-for-3.”
Calderon, 37, was a rookie that season and has plenty more years of experience in the league, but still looks back fondly on that landmark game, in which Bryant went 28-of-46 from the field, including 7-of-13 on 3-pointers, hitting 18 of 20 free throws in the Lakers' 122-104 victory.
“What I remember is it was a weird game. It was good because we were winning a long period of time in that game,” Calderon said. “Yeah, he’s scoring, but we were playing hard until he started getting hotter and hotter and hotter. It was impossible.
“I remember in the last few minutes of the game, just trying to do whatever and just foul him and send him to the free-throw line.”
It’s usually pretty easy to tell when a player is heating up and hitting impossible shots, but as Bryant got going, it didn’t look like it was going to turn into the headline-making outing that it eventually did.
When it reached a crescendo, it was hard to stop anything that Bryant was doing — and everyone knew it.
“Late in the third quarter, he got maybe 40 already, but because we were up, he was scoring and after 50 (points), people started getting up and he was pulling almost as soon as he was crossing halfcourt,” Calderon said. “You see some of the film and the guy was contested; it’s not like he was wide open. It’s always easy to talk when you’re on the other side. I don’t know how many free throws he got, but are you going to let him make 50 free throws?
“It was a good game to be part of, although I wasn’t on the right side, it was a good experience.”
Ironically, Calderon has been wearing jersey No. 81 for the past couple years with the Cavaliers and Pistons — but it has nothing to do with Bryant’s 81 points.
“People ask me if I wear 81 because of that game,” he said. “It’s mostly social media, but that’s not why I put 81 on my jersey.”
Andre Drummond has missed the past two games because a nasal contusion and he has been in the league’s concussion protocol. He could be gearing up for a return to the lineup Wednesday, as his condition continues to improve.
“He’s supposed to be back in town (Tuesday) afternoon and he has another test he has to go through that’s part of the protocol,” coach Dwane Casey said. “If he passes that, my understanding is that he’s ready to play.”
The Pistons struggled in Monday’s loss at the Wizards without Drummond, getting outrebounded and missing some of his presence on the defensive end. Casey said much of Drummond’s positives go unnoticed, but there were gaping holes in their defense in the loss.
“We missed him a lot; we missed his rebounding, his deterrent at the rim,” Casey said. “Some of it was our lack of one-on-one defense of containing the ball, but the other part is you know there’s nobody back there like Andre, so they were taking liberties with us. We missed that part of it.”
Pistons at Pelicans
Tip-off: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Smoothie King Center, New Orleans
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Pistons (20-26) have lost two straight, but possibly could have Andre Drummond (concussion protocol) back; Ish Smith (groin tightness) is day-to-day. ... The Pelicans (22-25) are without Anthony Davis, but won Monday at Memphis.