You may very well be taller than Nate Robinson, but 11 years ago this week the 5’9” bucket-getter put on a show at Madison Square Garden by becoming the second player in NBA history his height or shorter to score 45 points in a game.
By March 2008, Robinson was midway through his third season in the NBA and rounding into form, having already scored 15 or more points 22 times in the 56 games prior to a March 8 matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers. His minutes, meanwhile, were on the upswing, because Stephon Marbury had been sidelined for the season due to ankle surgery.
Fun fact: even though he was under contract for the next season, Marbury had already played his last game as Knick. Marbury and Mike D’Antoni, who took over for Isiah Thomas as head coach the next season, had a weird relationship. It was a whole thing.
Anyway, in the 32 games prior to Marbury’s season-ending surgery, Robinson was averaging 21.5 minutes per game, and in the 24 games after Marbury’s surgery but before Robinson’s 45 point outburst, he was playing 30.2 minutes a game. On March 8, he would play 52 minutes and 15 seconds, or nearly an entire episode of Game of Thrones.
Speaking of Game of Thrones, let’s take a two minute timeout to watch the trailer for the show’s final season, because it’s nice to know that there’s another form of entertainment coming to help us get through the end of the current NBA season.
Alright, back to basketball. Going into the game against the Blazers, it was clear Robinson had an opportunity to put up shots, as the Knicks were minus their four top scorers in Marbury, Jamal Crawford, Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph. Robinson was relatively subdued in the first half, but in the third quarter he exploded for 22 points, according to the New York Times recap. His points came, as they always did, in exhilarating fashion. He crossed guys over, launched mid-range jumpers and three pointers, and artfully completed layups while avoiding the outstretched arms of giants like Joel Przybilla (7’1”) and LaMarcus Aldridge (6’11”).
With 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter, after two free throws from Jarrett Jack (#OAKAAK) put the Blazers up by three, Robinson raced down the court for a layup to bring the Knicks within one. James Jones then hit one of two free throws, giving Robinson a chance to play hero with the Knicks down two and 8.1 seconds left. Pushing the ball down the court with a pace that would make Sonic the Hedgehog marvel, Robinson went up, drew contact from Przybilla but didn’t get a foul call, and somehow finished a layup that rolled around the rim like it was a coin in one of those spiral wishing well coin funnels that trick you into donating money by being so fun, tying the score at 108 and sending the game into overtime.
You can see Robinson’s last second layup near the end of this video the Knicks recently put out to commemorate his performance. The video also includes many other wonderful plays Robinson made that night:
Unfortunately, Robinson was unable to complete the masterpiece by wrangling a win, as the Knicks were outscored 12-6 in overtime en route to a 120-114 loss. When all was said and done, Robinson had posted 45 points on 16-28 shooting (57.1 percent), including 2-6 from three. He also shot 11-13 from the free throw line, and added 6 assists and 6 rebounds. Notably, Nate only had 2 turnovers, and at one point he received a technical foul for taunting.
The incredible scoring output made Robinson the second player 5’9” or shorter to score 45 points in NBA history to that point. Calvin Murphy, who was also 5’9” and played for the Houston Rockets during the 1970s and early 1980s, scored 45 or more three times in his career, including a 57-point showing in 1978. Today, Robinson and Murphy are joined on that list by Isaiah Thomas, who is 5’9” and scored 52 points for the Boston Celtics in a 2016 victory over the Miami Heat.
Brandon Roy led the way for the Blazers with 27 points, receiving help from Aldridge, who posted 22 points. Because his career was cut short due to knee injuries, Roy is often overlooked, so you should really take a look at some of the best moments of his career to remind yourself that he was actually quite good.
Roy and Robinson played together in college at the University of Washington, which probably gave both players a bit of extra juice for the matchup.
”He played a great game, it was fun to compete against him,” Roy said of Robinson after the game, according to the ESPN recap. “Every time we get a chance to play against one another it’s always fun. We didn’t want him to have a night like he did tonight, but hey, we got the win, so I got the overall bragging rights.”
As for Robinson, he reacted to his big night in the correct way, saying that because the Knicks lost, his 45 points were “pretty much washed away.”
”For the most part guys competed, played hard and we just didn’t get the job done,” Robinson added. “We took it to overtime but we couldn’t make shots. That was the biggest tease. They made some clutch shots down the stretch.”
The Knicks may not have gotten the win, but Robinson helped make some history, and considering the state of the franchise over the last two decades, a historic performance of any kind is at least something to talk about. Now, please enjoy the entirety of Robinson’s highlights from his 45-point performance that took place 11 years ago this week so we can talk about it in the comments!