Andrew Bynum sat on the bench, his face resting on his folded hands. He looked on as his teammates finished the game on the floor, probably wondering what more he could have done. Bynum’s been on and off the active roster due to injuries this past season, but he has never allowed it to affect his enthusiasm for his game, his team – at least not this season. On a quest with the Lakers to achieve something so very few teams have accomplished, a threepeat, it is this type of attitude that Laker captains Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher have preached time again the last few seasons – pushing and willing yourself and your team through adversity. Based on today’s game, it seems just a handful of Lakers understand this philosophy. Some, unfortunately, still need to be reminded.
Pau Gasol, who averaged 22.3 ppg on a 71% field goal percentage and 12.8 rpg in the sweep of the New Orleans series in the regular season, produced just eight points on 2-9 shooting, six rebounds and six assists in almost 38 minutes of playing time. At halftime, he had attempted just five field goals, tried just twice to score in the third quarter, and hit just his second shot of the game in the fourth and final quarter. Phil Jackson was asked during a break how Gasol could come out of his shooting slump and Jackson said simply, “Shoot the ball.” Gasol spent the afternoon roaming the perimeter, at one time attempting a corner three (?!). His midrange jumper wasn’t working for him today, but instead of being aggressive and fighting his way to the rim, he chose just to shoot less. His offensive production could have been a forgivable part of today’s game, had he at least been productive elsewhere, but even his efforts on the glass were lacking (six rebounds in 38 minutes!) and his defense was even more laughable. Going one-on-one with Chris Paul (33 points on 11-18, 14 assists), he got burned time and again.
Lamar Odom – it’s a good thing Sixth Man of the Year votes were due before the playoffs. Otherwise, today’s performance might’ve swayed voters’ towards another player. 10 points on 3-6 (two three-pointers late in the game when the outcome had already been decided), ONE rebound and two assists in almost 31 minutes on the floor. After the best regular season of his career, Odom opened the post-season with this putrid effort. That he Twittered before the game about live tweeting during tonight’s episode of Khloe & Lamar, it’s difficult not to assume where Odom’s mind is during such a significant part of the season. If rebounds truly equal effort, then Odom’s ONE board says an awful lot about what and how he helped his team lose today.
Other than the loss, today’s game was a complete waste of solid work from the players on this Laker team who did decide to come out into the playoffs swinging. Kobe Bryant, 34 points on 13-26, four rebounds, five assists and a block. To say he was in post-season form would be an understatement. He did it all for the team today, probably forced to compensate for the help that Pau Gasol wasn’t offering. He hit 7-8 from the free throw line, unafraid to get to the painted area and absorb the fouls. He distributed the ball to open teammates, and, despite running the back of his neck into a courtside seat at the end of the third quarter, continued to push forth in the final 12 minutes.
Ron Artest, 16 points on 4-8 and 11 rebounds, was a ball of energy on both ends of the floor. Andrew Bynum, 13 points on 4-7, nine rebounds and two blocks, played with no less than his best despite the foul trouble. Derek Fisher, eight points on 3-8, five rebounds and two assists, was feisty on defense as well. He may not have stopped Chris Paul, but as Phil Jackson has said before, containing a player like Paul is a concerted effort, and the Lakers were as disconcerted on defense as a team as they ever had been.
Had the Hornets actually converted some, if not the majority, of their 10 missed free throws, this wouldn’t have been such a close game, especially with the exceptional play of New Orleans’ bench, who outscored the Laker reserves 39-21.
It wasn’t enough to play through all the injuries they had in the regular season. It wasn’t enough to drop five games in a row before the season ended. It wasn’t enough to lose back-up guard Steve Blake indefinitely and have to call up Trey Johnson from the D-League. And apparently, it wasn’t enough to have Matt Barnes’ injury lingering longer than anticipated. The Lakers have added another hurdle to their long list this season, losing their home court advantage to a New Orleans team that most people projected they would sweep. Lamar Odom said before the game that pressure is a good thing. Well, here’s your wish, Lamar. Your team is down 0-1 in the opening series. How will you and your teammates respond to this?
Pre-game Thoughts: That the Lakers swept the Hornets in the regular season means little. It doesn’t matter if New Orleans isn’t big enough or that they’re short a main player in David West. This is playoff basketball and the Hornets are probably tired of all the sweep talk and are eager to put all the naysayers to rest. If the Lakers know what’s good for them, they’ll play up New Orleans’ weakness (size) and win it the easy way.
Half-time Thoughts: 55-48 – The greatest advantage for the Lakers the big men (Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom) have combined for just 14 points on 3-11. The Hornets are killing the Lakers with their ball movement (16 assists on 24 made field goals), but most of all their energy. The home team looked rattled on defense (allowed 59% shooting), stagnant on offense (shooting just 42% from the field) and if they just don’t look ready for the post-season. They need to figure out a way to turn Chris Paul into either a scorer or a playmaker (not both, as he leads the Hornets 11 points and 10 assists) and they absolutely need to play up their advantages inside. Kobe Bryant leads all scores with 16 points on 7-13 but he needs more contribution from his teammates.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom – The two keys to the Lakers’ quest for this threepeat chose not to participate in today’s game. It is one thing to have a bad shooting game, but to have a bad shooting game keep them from doing anything else at this point in the season is a shame and a total disappointment.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: The players who DID come to play today – Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum and Derek Fisher – aggressive offensively and energetic defensively. Unfortunately, it takes more than four players on a team to win a game and the Lakers are no exception.