PHOENIX -- For the Lakers, talking about the Celtics is taboo, to say the least. Andrew Bynum tried it, and Phil Jackson accused him of a brain -- um -- malfunction. Lakers fans chanted, "We want Boston!" during Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center, and Kobe Bryant chided them for being "disrespectful to the team that we're playing."
But discussing the Celtics' surprising blitz though the postseason -- evicting LeBron James from the second round and getting his coach fired, and now breezing to a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals? That's fair game.
So Bryant was asked on the practice floor Monday how much Boston's ruthless dismantling of the Magic has surprised him.
"Honestly? Zero," Bryant said.
And the Cavs?
"I just thought it was great defense," Bryant said. "I just wasn’t surprised by it. You give them a series to prepare, and they're going to be prepared like you wouldn't believe. They're going to home in on things that you do and take those things away from you. And if you can't make adjustments ... throughout a series, you’re going to have problems."
Yes, even when the Celtics were struggling with a .500 record after Christmas, Bryant saw this coming.
"They started the season off the right way," he said. "Once they stepped back and let [Rajon] Rondo do what he does, that team started taking off. They're a great defensive team -- defense, rebounding, that’s how they punch their ticket. That’s how they go about doing it."
Just don't ask him about playing the Celtics. Not yet. And no more "We want Boston!" chants until this series is over.
"It makes no sense," Bryant said. "No sense."
That must be how the Suns feel trying to defend Bryant. In Game 1, they limited his supporting cast by not double-teaming him, and Bryant scored 40 points. In Game 2, they pressured him when he had the ball and Bryant dished out 13 assists. In Game 3, they played zone on nearly every possession in the second half, and Bryant hurt them both ways -- scoring 36 points and handing out 11 assists.
"You know Kobe’s going to score, there’s no doubt about that," Jason Richardson said. "He’s going to get his 30-plus points or whatever it is. But when he’s doing that, you don’t want him to have 10 or 11 assists because that means he’s getting people involved. We've got to figure out a way. Are we going to let him score or are we going to let him be a distributor? We've got to pick our poison, which one we want. Because you know that any given time he can score, so I don’t think we want him to be a distributor, too."
Suns coach Alvin Gentry has wrestled with how to defend Bryant and also how to combat the Lakers' size advantage. Bryant is going to do what he does, but the best strategy by far that the Suns have employed against L.A.'s front court was Amar'e Stoudemire's aggressiveness in taking the ball to the basket and getting to the foul line in Game 3. Did it work because he was able to get Bynum and Lamar Odom in foul trouble? Or did he get them in foul trouble because the strategy was working? That will be the next stylistic adjustment in a series that could still take a few more strategic twists and turns.
That, and how much zone the Suns want to play. It worked in the second half Sunday night because Bynum and Odom were limited by fouls and the Lakers weren't hitting from the perimeter; they uncharacteristically launched 32 attempts from 3-point range, making only nine.
"I like seeing it a lot when they don’t go in," Gentry said of the Lakers' trigger-happy night beyond the arc. "The zone is good when the shots are not going in. ... It also gave us an opportunity to win, and that’s the only thing that concerns me. I'll do anything. We’ll play any way if it helps us win."
That's one of many reasons why too much Boston talk from the Lakers wouldn't be a wise idea. There are still a few things for the defending champs to figure out between now and then.