Raja Bell's pregame ritual includes downing a cup-and-a-half of coffee and a can of Red Bull. He must have doubled up his caffeine intake Wednesday.
In addition to drawing the usual defensive assignment against Kobe Bryant, Bell scored 23 points, all in the final three quarters of play, to keep the Suns close in the second game of their first-round playoff series with the Lakers. Only he and Steve Nash shot over 50 percent from the floor or scored more than 13 points for the Suns.
“He picked up his intensity and had one of his best games in a long time,” Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. “He did a great job on Kobe, and it was by his will and his heart.”
Early on, it didn't look as though it would be Bell leading the way.
He missed his first four shots before getting aggressive and finding his shot. With his team trailing by 16 points with 6:08 remaining in the second quarter, Bell hit his first jumper. By the end of the half he had 12 points.
Bell said he had allowed himself to “mope” after going 1-for-7 in the first game of the series then starting out cold Wednesday.
“The way we play, you can't be gun-shy,” Bell said. “I can't speak for anyone else, but I know I was (gun-shy). . . . At that point I made a decision to just attack. If I was going to miss, it was going to be attacking. I think that's the way we have to play. I know that's the way I have to play.”
Bell is being asked to do more than contribute on the offensive end.
He's also charged with guarding the league's most prolific scorer.
Bryant averaged 35.4 points per game during the regular season, and, even though the Lakers' sudden emphasis on getting the ball into the post has received a lot of attention, he is still gunning to a degree. Bryant has scored 51 points on 19-for-45 (42.2 percent) shooting in the first two games of this series. “Kobe had 24 shots (Wednesday). That's a lot of shots,” Bell said. “You treat him the same way. . . . (Whether it's) Kobe shooting 30 (times) or Kobe shooting 18 (times). That's how you have to play him.”