Kobe Bryant's Subtle Gesture Silences the Phoenix Suns
It was a sign of sportsmanship, respect, and a clear signal that the Los Angeles Lakers had just defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals.
Gentry had few words to describe Bryant's 37-point clutch performance or the Lakers 111-103 victory, and his silence is a definite change of course from the ill-timed comments which plagued the Suns for the majority of the series.
Steve Nash started the sound byte parade by hinting San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was a better coach than Lakers' coach Phil Jackson, when Jackson mentioned Nash's tendency to carry the ball.
I suspected Nash's words could back-fire on the Suns, and they did, to the tune of 128 Los Angeles Lakers' points in Game One, and a decisive victory to boot in a series where Phoenix were the decided underdogs.
Amar'e Stoudemire followed in Nash's footsteps when he said Lamar Odom's 19-point, 19-rebound performance in Game One was purely luck, and he would be surprised if Odom could duplicate the feat.
Phoenix reserve Jared Dudley felt the need to chime in by saying the Suns would view tape of Ron Artest's and Odom's contributions, and see if they could do the same thing in Game Two.
Well, the Lakers scored 124 points in Game Two, and matched their 58 percent shooting percentage from Game One, while Odom had yet another double-double in a dominant Lakers' victory.
The Suns had little to say after Game Two, and most of their conversation centered around recovering from their two-game deficit, and finding a way to get back into the series.
Phoenix headed home with none of their previous bravado, but Gentry did have a plan, and his adjustment to the zone defense was a masterful stroke which gave the Suns new life in the series.
Phoenix's zone nullified the Lakers height advantage, and the Suns reserves came to life, scoring more than 80 points in the Suns two home victories, and sending the series back to Los Angeles tied at two games a piece.
Game Five of the series will be remembered as one of the Western Conference Finals' greatest games played, and a perfect contrast between a superior team, and one who refuses to concede.
Phoenix twice battled back from double-digit deficits and threatened to send the game into overtime, when Jason Richardson banked a three pointer off the glass with 3.5 seconds remaining on the game clock.
The rest is history, literally.
Bryant missed a contested three pointer, Ron Artest successfully followed the shot, and the Lakers escaped with a crucial two point win, and a three games to two lead in the series.
One would think the Suns had learned their lessons about providing extra motivation to the Lakers through their words, but there was Nash channeling Joe Namath by guaranteeing a victory in Game Six.
When Artest was asked about Nash's words he said it was just another sign of disrespect which has been shown to the Lakers all postseason, and the team would definitely discuss Nash's comments before the game.
I'm not sure if the Lakers talked about Nash's guarantee, but Artest had his own axe to grind based on a few words from Gentry which Artest took exception to.
Gentry was asked if he would make any defensive adjustments to cover Artest on the perimeter and Gentry responded by saying he was much more worried about Derek Fisher and Bryant, than Artest.
This is a perfectly reasonable strategy, and one that makes sense, except Artest was bothered by Gentry's words, and even though he may only be the Lakers fourth option, he's still a better player than any forward Phoenix has on their roster, save Stoudemire.
And in Game Six Artest proved it by scoring a team high 15 points in the first half and 26 for the game, while playing a suffocating brand of defense throughout.
The Lakers were in complete control with a 15-point fourth quarter lead, until another verbal showdown between Sasha Vujacic and Goran Drajic lead to an elbow by Vujacic, and a change in the momentum of the game.
Vujacic was assessed a flagrant one foul, and the Suns were able to turn the incident into a eight-point possession which enabled them to climb back into the game.
The stage seemed set for a replay of Game Five, but Bryant was having none of that, and when Jackson re-inserted Bryant in the game, he proceeded to score nine points in two minutes, and finally silence the Suns for the season.
A series which had seen its fair share of verbal shots from the Suns was ended on the strength of Bryant's superior play at the end of the fourth quarter, and his light pat on Gentry was all the confirmation needed.
Phoenix put up a valiant effort, and gave the Lakers all they could handle, but in the end the series would be determined on the court, rather than the microphone, and Los Angeles is headed to their third consecutive NBA Finals as a result.
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