Lamar Odom stood by the Laker bench before the game, with Mitch Kupchak at center court getting ready to present him with the Sixth Man of the Year trophy. Odom looked to his left at his captain, Kobe Bryant, who gave him a fist bump to go along with a giant smile. Bryant knows what Odom means to this Laker team, and after receiving the award in front of the fans who had supported his place on the bench, the Lakers’ sixth man played a signature all-around game that helped his team even the series; you know, just in case there were still any doubters out there.
If not for Odom’s contributions tonight, the Hornets may have led the series 2-zip heading to New Orleans. Unlike in Game 1 where Kobe Bryant dominated with his offense, the Lakers’ captain spent the evening trying to get his teammates involved, not to mention chasing Chris Paul around. With Pau Gasol still unable to find his game (8 points on 2-10, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks), it was up to the other Lakers to lead the way, and helping to lead the charge off the bench was none other than Lamar Odom. Odom had 16 points on 8-12, seven rebounds, two assists and a block. He laid up a lob from Bryant, received the ball in transition from Shannon Brown from a fast break layup, and then grabbed a defensive board and made his way directly to the hoop for a floater with poor, unfortunate Jason Smith attempting to deter him. Jason Smith vs. Lamar Odom – it’s as unfair a match as you can imagine.
Rolling alongside Odom was fellow New Yorker, Ron Artest. Usually assigned to defend the opposing team’s top scorer, offensive production is welcomed but not typically expected of Artest, yet in each of the first two games of this series, he has scored 31 points. His 15 points tonight included two three pointers, one coming late in the game to ice the victory. He also grabbed six rebounds, handed out a pair of assists, took a couple of steals and blocked two shots. Artest has played with so much focused energy in this series so far and one can only hope that it continues to spread to the rest of the team.
The third reason for this Lakers win was Andrew Bynum. Talk about ecstatic to be here! Like Artest, Bynum’s energy on the floor isn’t just oozing out of him – it’s shooting out of his pores. The big man was everywhere in this game. He scored 17 points on 8-11! He also brought down 11 rebounds, blocked two shots, intercepted a cross-court pass and altered a slew of Hornets’ attempts that don’t show up on the box score. His face-up game was sharp (except for the 2 of 3 missed free throws), he was quick with the decision making when he got the ball inside and you can see the fire in his demeanor. After scoring on a hoop and-1 from Shannon Brown’s pass, he landed on the baseline and pumped his fist towards the ground amidst the cheers. There’s certainly a sense that Bynum is just happy to be as healthy as he is (relatively speaking of course) in the post-season, fortunately for the Lakers.
Even the bench unit, after getting outplayed in the first game, did their team well, especially in that second quarter. They outscored the Hornets’ reserves 27-13 and were responsible for 10 of the Lakers’ 20 assists on 34 made field goals. Matt Barnes, looking like his old self pre-surgery, was 4-4 from the field for his eight points, and also had two steals. Steve Blake, back from the chicken pox, handed out five assists in six minutes in the first half. Ball movement was definitely better in this game compared to the last, and the Lakers’ bench certainly contributed to that success.
In the end, however, it was the Lakers’ defense that did the Hornets in. After allowing New Orleans to shoot 56% in the first quarter, they allowed just 35% in the second and 33% in the third and fourth quarters. In Game 1, the Hornets had just three turnovers, and tonight they were forced into 16. And Chris Paul, after pouring in 33 points and handing out 14 assists on Sunday, was contained for the most party by a bigger Kobe Bryant. He still scored 20 points, but only handed out nine assists. With his playmaking hindered, the rest of the team, so dependent on his direction and guidance, could not compensate.
It’s only one win, but the Lakers looked far and away more active in this game than they did in the last. Now it’s off to New Orleans, where they have actually had a great amount of success. If they play with this type of energy on defense, move the ball as well as they did on offense, and get something out of their #2 Pau Gasol (rebound or create plays at least!), they place themselves in a greater position to close out this series in their favor as soon as possible.
Pre-game Thoughts: Game 1 is done! Forget about it, move on, Lakers. Get your inside game going, move the ball, contain Chris Paul and for the last time – PLAY BIG!
Half-time Thoughts: 41-47 – Other than giving Chris Paul that wide open three pointer at the buzzer to end the half, the Lakers played an excellent second quarter, clamping down on the defense and forcing the Hornets into 10 turnovers and, after allowing them to shoot 56% in the first quarter, allowed jus 44% shooting going into the break. And as their defense awoke, so too their offense. The Laker bench provided quite the spark, with Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes scoring all 14 reserve points and Steve Blake (back with a yellow headband) and Shannon Brown helping with seven of the Lakers’ 16 assists. Andrew Bynum leads all scores with 12 points on 6-8 and his presence on defense can’t be heralded enough. Pau Gasol struggled from the field, going just 2-6 for his six points, but he also only has a single rebound. If he can get it going in the second half, the Lakers can blow this game wide open. All this with Kobe Bryant chipping in just three points on 1-4, but his defense on Chris Paul has been effective. The Hornets’ guard has just nine points and five assists. New Orleans only has nine assists on 16 field goals.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Pau Gasol – He appeared to be trying to do more, but didn’t yield much of a stat line for it. New Orleans merely crowded Gasol the last two games and he hasn’t figured out what to do about it. He looks rattled there in the paint, where he can usually inflict so much of his damage to the opponents. And this is just against the smallish Hornets.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Tri-State Trifecta – Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum – NYC and NJ in the house! With Kobe Bryant putting all his energy into getting his teammates involved and defending Chris Paul, and Pau Gasol taken out of the game, the Lakers were fortunate to have a back-up plan. Odom, Artest and Bynum – how greedy a back-up plan were they?!