What a difference a year makes for Raja Bell. Last season, the Suns guard was nearly a Darth Vader-like villain, suspended for a critical playoff game for his infamous clothesline hit on Kobe Bryant.
The indiscretion could well have sent the Suns to a humiliating Round 1 playoff loss to the Lakers.
This year, Bell was more like Superman.
He helped his wife deliver their first child on Wednesday afternoon, then hustled downtown and played a fine defensive game, helping hold Bryant within reason.
The result: the Suns are on their way to Round 2.
“Adrenaline is a cool thing,” Bell said after his “whirlwind” two days that started early Tuesday afternoon.
With no complications in the delivery, “I figured I’d be ready to play. I just didn’t know what I’d have in my tank.
“It had been a long night and a long day ... I knew I’d have to dig for a little extra.”
Concentrating on the game wasn’t so tough because, “It was a joy today. And basketball is one of the things that brings me (joy).
“My little son was awesome. I got to hang out with him for as long as I could. I got to spend some time with Mommy, then they let me go to work for a little while.”
Bell slept on a sofa bed in a hospital, waiting for his wife Cindy to give birth.
Dia Bell, 8 pounds, 5 ounces, 21 inches, was born via C-section about 1:30 p.m.
“He still had a conehead,” Bell said, laughing. “And it wasn’t genetic.”
Dia, which is also Raja’s middle name, is a west African name that means “champion.”
Bell was relieved that Dia came while the Suns were at home, instead of on the road where he would have had to fly back home — hopefully in time.
“It would have been a little dicey,” he said.
An hour before the game, Bell said, “I’m riding on a pretty good high right now.”
He sure was.
He scored eight points in the game’s first 2:21, lifting the Suns to an early 14-6 lead, one the Suns never gave up.
The eight quick points were more than the 7.3 he’d been averaging for the series.
“They gave me some looks. They’re not going to keep leaving you open. They were choosing to take away a lot of the jump shots in this series.”
That was OK with Bell because, “My job was mostly Kobe and making hustle plays. That’s what I was concentrating on.”
Bell didn’t score again. But he came up with three assists and three rebounds, including a huge offensive board that pretty much ended any hope of a Lakers rally in the final moments. More important, he helped hold Bryant to 34 points.
That included a relatively harmless 10 in the final quarter, when the Lakers were frantically trying to overcome a double-digit deficit.
Bryant -- who called Bell’s situation “pretty awesome” when he learned of the impending birth at the Lakers’ noon shoot-around —- and Bell hugged after the game.