There's no other way to describe the sorts of shots that Kobe Bryant(notes) hit down the stretch in this ballgame. There just wasn't any stopping him. There was nothing the Phoenix Suns could do. Even though you know that greatness is coming, Kobe's just amazing. He truly is.
We've seen him take, and make, bad shots all year; mostly during the regular season. But the overwhelming bulk of those bad makes were looks that didn't really have to happen. Shots that a proper running of the Laker offense could render anachronistic. Just a few extra passes, and the right mindset to start the possession, and Kobe wouldn't have needed to fire up a 20-foot line-driver with a hand in his face.
Against the Suns, in Game 6, he kind of had to. He definitely had to, because the Suns continued to get better and better defensively as the game went on. Abandoning their 2-3 zone for most of the second half, the Suns went to a potent man-to-man attack that forced Bryant into playing the hero, again, and he delivered. Impossible shots, incredible makes. And as a result, the Lakers are going back to the Finals for the third straight season.
To be accurate, and a bit snarky, there was no way the Phoenix defense couldn't improve after a miserable first quarter that saw the team give up 37 points. The Lakers neared 130 points per 100 possessions on the game, but man, the Suns got better. They got after it, they cut off angles, and they worked. They nearly pulled it off.
And the only reason the Lakers toss up nearly 130 points per 100 possessions - which is a monstrous number, by the way - is because of that bad first quarter, and Kobe Bryant just teeing off down the stretch. Just hitting shot after shot over a dead tired Jared Dudley(notes) (and why was Dudley so tired? You tell your old man to drag Kobe Bryant up and down the court) and a well-rested but completely beleaguered Grant Hill(notes).
Hill and Dudley played him perfectly. Bryant, somehow, overcomes that. You figure it out.
The Suns bench, as the game went along, figured out just what it took to compete at this level. It was a little too late, but after a second quarter run that saw their contributions go to pot, the second unit (and some Suns starters, as well) figured out that every possession counted, taking its cue from a Laker team that had been there before. And that's often the difference, in games like this. Difference enough to provide a cushion that then takes the legs out of a team even if it comes all the way back to make it a two possession game. Top it off with Kobe blowing everyone's minds, and you have a ballgame.
Quite a good one, I might add.
Because both outfits had figured out exactly where to go, what pockets to penetrate, in these teams' tenth meeting of the season. Despite the noted issues with Phoenix's focus in the first half and a tough night for Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) around the rim (though he did make a few jaw-dropping lay-ins alongside a couple of startling dunks), both teams executed quite well offensively, something that wasn't always (or often, really) the result of turned heads or missed assignments.
The Lakers had just enough. Ron Artest(notes) was hitting from the outside, Leandro Barbosa(notes) was not. Jordan Farmar(notes) scored off of broken plays, Grant Hill did not. Jared Dudley could not get the stops he needed, but Pau Gasol(notes) could. The Lakers were eight points better, spread out over 48 minutes. Just enough in every area, with a distinct advantage on the offensive glass. Toss in the championship know-how (that's not sportswriter twaddle, these men know what to do) and Kobe's astonishing play, and you have a tough road win. You have another Finals appearance.
37 points and just two turnovers for Kobe. Averaged about 34, eight assists, and seven rebounds in the Conference finals. Talk up the crummy Suns D all you want, it wasn't what pushed Los Angeles. The Lakers scored because of effort, execution, and talent. They didn't score because the Suns weren't running the floor, or closing out properly. The Lakers took this.
Absolutely took it.
The champs are still on their feet, cats and kittens. Looking about as strong as we've ever seen them.