Lakers-Suns playoff series are as fierce, unpredictable and inconceivable as a Raja Bell clothesline.
The Suns and Lakers last met in the playoffs as the 2 and 7 seeds respectively, in the first round of 2006 and again in 2007. Kobe Bryant remembers it well. Kobe Bryant will never forget it. It produced the most remarkable and deplorable moment in Kobe’s playing career.
2006 – It’s Game 4 of the first round series between Lakers and Suns. Two of the most sensational plays in Kobe Bryant’s career occur just minutes apart.
In case the first one wasn’t satisfying enough, here’s one that tops it.
In overtime, Kobe gobbles up the loose ball, runs to the right elbow and elevates over two defenders waiting for him. Doesn’t matter to Kobe. He know it’s going in. Kobe releases a shout of euphoria as the Lakers go up 3-1 in the series, on the verge of pulling off one of the biggest first-round upsets ever. Tim Thomas stands akimbo, incredulous. The Staples Center erupts, incredible.
But this would not be a Hollywood ending for Kobe and the Lakers. In Game 7, the Lakers didn’t stand a chance. Kobe only took three shot in the second half when the Lakers had no one else to rely on and Bryant, as precarious as ever, didn’t shoot at all in the fourth quarter. The Lakers were blown out and humiliated. Not only did Phoenix become just the eighth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, Kobe’s reputation was hit harder than one of Kimbo Slice’s victims on YouTube. Charles Barkley claimed that Kobe had “tanked” in game 7. Many onlookers speculated that Kobe stopped asserting himself just to prove how dreadful his team really was Kobe haters rejoiced at his deficiencies as a player, a teammate, a person. Not even the biggest Kobe apologist could defend his actions. Kobe’s credibility had taken a bigger blow than Kimbo Slice in the Octagon. The best player on the planet had quit on his team by not putting forth his best effort. His will and motivation to win had been questioned. (LeBron James, did you not learn anything from this game?)
2007 was a much less dramatic story which yielded the same result. There were no highlight reels worth posting. The Lakers lacked the poise, the talent, and the fortitude to make amends for their ill-fated choke job from the previous year and ended up losing the series in 5 games.
Lakers fans were concerned and upset. Some fans began openly questioning the Lakers decision to choose Kobe over Shaquille O’Neal, who propelled the Miami Heat to a championship the previous season. I could only remember one other period of Lakers basketball where the future looked as bleak as it did that summer. It was deja-vu. I felt like I was re-living the 1993 season all over again.