In this week’s Throwback Thursday, we go back to Game 7 of a first round series against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2006, when Leandro Barbosa scored 26 points to lead the Suns to a 121-90 win.
It was perhaps the result of the infamous Raja bell clothesline of Bryant from Game 5 of the series, and it’s fitting that Bell recently announced an unofficial retirement. Bell’s suspension led to Barbosa finding himself guarding Bryant in Game 6 of the series, and an elbow from Kobe that required stitches sparked two fine performances from The Blur.
“I remember that I got elbowed in the face (in Game 6) and I had to go back into the locker room and get some stitches in my mouth,” Barbosa said this week. “It was from Kobe and I was pissed that he did that, so when I came back I had a really good game and we won that series. We start at that game and I think we were losing 3-0, I am not sure, but we turned it around and it was great.”
Date: May 6, 2006
Place: U.S. Airways Center
Set-up: The Suns finished the 2005-06 season with a 54-28 record that gave them the second seed in the Western Conference. Steve Nash took home his second MVP award in as many years averaging 18.8 points and 10.5 assists per game. What Nash was able to do that year was even more amazing considering Amare Stoudemire played a grand total of three games, and yet Nash was able to take home a MVP award with Boris Diaw as his starting power forward. But who am I to hate on the “Big Croissant” like that?
Going into the playoffs, the purple and orange faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, a team that wasn’t expected to give the Suns much of a run. Kobe Bryant and his 35.4 points per game led the team with some help from Lamar Odom, but other than that it was pretty bleak in terms of talent. They had Chris Mihm start 56 games and…wait for it….Smush Parker, yes, Smush Parker start all 82 games for them. Without Raja Bell, who was suspended for his takedown on Bryant in Game 5, it took a Tim Thomas three-pointer in Game 6 for the Suns to force a Game 7.
Most importantly perhaps, Leandro Barbosa took an elbow from Bryant in Game 6 to score 22 points and set up another big performance in the decisive game.
Game 7: The Suns pounced on a shell-shocked Lakers team that had not recovered from Thomas’ heroics two nights before and weren’t capable of putting up much of a fight. Leandro Barbosa went bonkers, leading the team with 26 points and scoring 11 of those consecutively bridging the first and second quarters. With the Suns extending a 15-point halftime lead to more than 20 very quickly, Bryant decided to prove some sort of point and stopped shooting the ball. Mamba waved the white flag by choosing to only shoot the rock three times in the second half as the Suns cruised to a 31-point victory.
Aftermath: After dealing with the Lakers, the Suns went on to face that “other” team in Los Angeles, the Clippers, in the second round. The Suns were taken to seven games once again thanks to Raja Bell’s late-game heroics in Game 5. His corner three as time was winding down at the end of the first overtime extended the game, which the Suns won in the next overtime period to take a 3-2 series lead. The series came back to Phoenix for a Game 7 that the Suns won easily by a score of 127-107. The saying, “All good things come to an end” rang true as the little team that could did not have enough juice left in the tank and fell in the Western Conference Finals to the Dallas Mavericks in six games. The deep playoff run has left Suns fans wondering to this day what could have been had Stoudemire been healthy.
A Q&A with Leandro Barbosa on the 2006 playoff run
What do you remember from Game 7?
Leandro Barbosa: I remember that I got elbowed in the face (in Game 6) and I had to go back into the locker room and get some stitches in my mouth. It was from Kobe and I was pissed that he did that, so when I came back I had a really good game and we won that series. We start at that game and I think we were losing 3-0, I am not sure, but we turned it around and it was great.
So that elbow from Kobe got you going?
Barbosa: Yes, for that series.
Down 3-1 in the series at one point, what did the team do to turn things around in that series?
Barbosa: It was all about we win one game. After we win the first game, we knew we could do better than what we were doing and it was a playoff that everybody had to help each other and we did a great job and turned it around.
Did you feel like it was weird that Kobe Bryant decided to only take three shots in the second half of a deciding Game 7?
Barbosa: I think it was because we tried to do best we could with him and he was taking a lot of shots and other teammates were getting involved, which was good for us because he was the only one scoring points. What I think he wanted to do in a seventh game was pass the ball for his teammates, and it didn’t really help and we took the series.
Did it surprise you a bit going as far as the team went without having a marquee player like Amare Stoudemire for all but a handful of games that season?
Barbosa: It wasn’t surprising we just had to find out how to play without him, and we did. We did a great job and definitely Amare was special at that time. He was a guy that was really helping us, an All-Star, and we didn’t have him so we needed the chemistry without him and we did a great job with that.
Does that team win a championship with a healthy Stoudemire?
Barbosa: We were close. We got close you know and that could’ve happened, but it didn’t and we did our best. Even without him and with him we definitely could have done it.
During that playoff run, there were many big shots from Tim Thomas in Game 6 against the Lakers, to Steve Nash and Raja Bell against the Clippers, to Boris Diaw against Dallas. Did any of those stand out to you as being bigger than the other?
Barbosa: All of them are big, all we wanted to do was go to the Final, that’s our dream and it didn’t happen. We did the best we could in those games that were very good for us and we were happy we won those games. It was just bad we didn’t get a championship.