As the playoffs are now just days away we begin to consider and break down potential opponents. From a team vs. team to a player vs. player perspective, the winner of a seven game series is in large part determined by match-ups. The Lakers’ speed, age and length will all be important factors against whichever opponents await. Although, regardless of how the Lakers will match up to their opponents, they will always have the advantage at the shooting guard position. No exception.
For the most part, the opposite shooting guard is called on to slow down Kobe Bryant. With no real way of stopping him, the most they can do is play a pesky style of man-defense and hope for the best. During the Lakers’ current championship campaign, dating back to the 2008 playoffs, players on the opposing bench have tried every which way to get at Bryant. From series to series, players from J.R. Smith, to Shane Battier, to Ron Artest, to Mickael Pietrus have all tried to etch their name as the perennial “Kobe stopper”.
But there is one infamous opponent that stands above the rest.
I currently reside near Phoenix, Arizona. Even though he has not worn a Suns uniform for a few seasons, Raja Bell is still considered a hometown hero in the valley. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Suns fans are calling to retire his jersey when he calls it quits. All this love and admiration stems from one single play in 2006 when Raja Bell went vintage NBA on Two-Four, then Eight, and clothe-lined Bryant to the floor. Suns fans went crazy and Mike D’Antoni began barking at somebody over something.
Since that night happened, I am constantly reminded and asked about that play. With Suns fans as co-workers in every job I’ve had, it’s hard to escape the memory of Bryant on the floor, Bell smiling and the cheers of “Kobe sucks!” A friend of mine even created it into his screensaver.
Because of this, Bell is often referred in Phoenix as the ultimate “Kobe stopper.” But was he?
In 2006, Bryant’s regular season scoring average was 35.4 points per game. Bryant’s regular season average against the Suns when Bell played went up to 42.3 points per game. Advantage Bryant. In the Lakers’ first and only round of the playoffs against the Suns, Bryant’s average dropped to 27.9 points per game. Advantage Bell? Nope. That is still higher than his current career playoff average of 25.5 points per game.