Kobe Bryant was 3-for-10 in the first half of game 1. Grant Hill had been playing good defense on him, and Jared Dudley had been playing some defense on him as well. Kobe started the second half hot, making his first three shots in the first 2:23. At this point, the game was close. The Suns hadn’t played that well (Lopez looked good but rusty, Amundson forgot to do much of anything, they couldn’t make any shots). They looked to this guy like a team that wasn’t 100% ready to come out and play (much like Game 1 of the First Round). The Lakers were shooting the lights out (over 60% shooting for the half), and I was predicting the inevitable regression to the mean for both teams, which meant that the Suns would do a lot better in the 2nd half, as the Lakers shooting would be less ridiculous and the Suns shooting would be less terrible.
Kobe started out the third quarter hot, making his first three buckets in the first two minutes and change. The Suns started out pretty hot as well, and the teams were swapping scores for a bit. However, Hill was called for two fouls in just over a minute (neither of which was much of a foul–especially the second one). Following the second one, Hill gave a little dismissive hand wave that “earned” him a T, and Alvin took him out of the game, never to return.
Now, like I said, Kobe had already started hot, so maybe keeping Hill in the game wouldn’t have made much difference to his 3rd Quarter. But a lot of those shots were jumpers, and Hill tends to play right up on Kobe because he has the quicks to stay in front of him if he tries to drive. Dudley is a fine defender, but he has to sag off of Kobe because he definitely does not have those same quicks. And when he sags, daring Kobe to shoot? Well, Kobe shoots. If Dudley has to get up on him? Kobe can go right past him. So taking Hill out of the game took away the Suns’ most effective Kobe defender.
The other thing that did was give the Suns FIVE fouls for the quarter, putting them into the penalty. Five fouls in five minutes and fifteen seconds? Yeah, that starts to get a little sketchy, doesn’t it? And when that happens, it dramatically changes the way the Suns play defense over the rest of the quarter. They can’t be as aggressive because every foul is free throws. Sure, the fouls balanced out for the game (23-21), but calling those five in that clump like that was a pretty savvy move by a veteran officiating crew. Completely changed the game.
One other note about defense: I like Ron Artest. I like that he’s crazy. I think he gets a little bit of a bad rap. But Ron Artest’s Defensive Rep + Wearing Purple & Gold = A Whole Truckload of Uncalled Fouls. Seriously, he gets away with so many bumps and slaps and nudges and what-have-you that no other player gets to do. It’s not like he’s dirty (like Bruce Bowen); he’s just insanely aggressive and is allowed to do it.