Pau Gasol grabbed a rebound off of Andrew Bynum’s miss and tossed it up. He missed but grabbed the ball again and dunked it in with a showcase of aggression that we haven’t seen from him in this series. The shot didn’t count but he got two free throws which, for the first time in these playoffs, put him in double figures. He followed that with a three pointer to open the fourth quarter en route to his 17 points on 7-13, 10 rebounds, four assists and a block for the night. Ladies and gentlemen, Black Swan has awoken.
A three-pointer from the corner with the shot clock running out was Gasol’s second from downtown this season, and though he’s more dominant closer to the hoop, that one shot did something to and for him. Simply, it got him going. Soon he was going after more offensive rebounds and after getting a shot off a second chance, he ran back on defense and pounded his chest on the way. Where’s THAT been the last two games? Gasol admitted that his performance in Games 1 and 2 affected his confidence, and a reported upper respiratory infection may have had something to do with his unusual lack of efficiency, but if this second half surge is any indication of future games, the Laker forward may have shaken off that lack of confidence completely.
While the second half belonged to Pau Gasol, the first two quarters were dominated by one Andrew Bynum. New Orleans had no answer for the young center. He tossed hook shots over Emeka Okafor with little resistance, received passes that he dunked so quickly, his defenders had no time to react, and the 11 rebounds to go along with his 14 points on 6-13 didn’t hurt. New Orleans Coach Monty Williams said that the Lakers’ offensive rebounding has been a thorn in the Hornets’ foot. Tonight the Lakers took 14 offensive boards and Bynum was responsible for a third. He went down (yet again) in the third quarter after getting his foot tangled with Carl Landry’s, but he got up and told the media post-game that he was okay. Yes, Bynum falling causes the Lakers and every fan to gasp with worry each time, but you have to give the 23-year old credit – he refuses to stay down.
Before tonight’s game, Phil Jackson said that Kobe Bryant told him he’d take more shots than he did in Game 2. In his post-game interview, Bryant said that he was trying to send a message to his teammates on Wednesday; that he was reminding them how much they can impact the game without touching the ball. Bryant chose to facilitate and defend Chris Paul in the last game and the Lakers won with him scoring just 11 points on 30% shooting. Tonight, however, Bryant was his usual offensively minded self. The circus shots and 1, not to mention a bring-it-back-to-old-school dunk from the left shoulder, and how about 4-7 from behind the arc? 30 points on 10-20, six rebounds, two assists, three steals and a block? Other than the four turnovers (Chris Paul had five himself), Bryant was Bryant and the Lakers won.
Lamar Odom, who is shooting 61% in this series, chipped in another great game. He led the bench with 13 points on 4-8, nine rebounds and a pair of dimes despite the evening spent in foul trouble. His consistency this season has been an absolute godsend to his team, and with Bynum and Gasol having as productive a night as they did in addition to Odom’s, the Lakers couldn’t lose this game. Together they accounted for 44 points and grabbed 30 of the team’s 43 rebounds. THIS is the Lakers’ (literally) BIG THREE, and when they produce in this manner, the defending champs are more than a handful to defend.
As far as their defense in the game, the Lakers did well by trying to keep Chris Paul from running the show. He got his 22 points on 9-13, but scored 18 of those in the first half, opting to facilitate in the second. After handing out three assists in the first two quarters, however, Paul only handed out another five in the third and fourth quarters. The whole Lakers team was on CP3 Watch, and it did them well, not using up one defender’s energy to, in all honesty, chase the unchaseable. Carl Landry did some damage in the second half, but it wasn’t enough.
Game 4 is on Easter Sunday and the New Orleans will, by all means of which they are capable, try to derail this Lakers team from going home with a 3-1 series lead. If, however, the Lakers execute with the energy, effort and efficiency that they did tonight, they will put a stranglehold on this pesky Hornets team.
Pre-game Thoughts: The Lakers just have to do everything they did in Game 2 (play team defense, move the ball, and get it inside) PLUS get Pau Gasol going. If they do that – victory will come easily.
Half-time Thoughts: 51-42 – In the sea of yellow shirts, the Lakers must think they’re at Staples because they are fired up in this game and it’s showing up in full. The Hornets have absolutely no answer for Andrew Bynum who’s got 14 points on 6-10 and he leads the game with 9 rebounds already. Kobe Bryant’s gotten it going as well with his 15 points on 6-11. Chris Paul has kept New Orleans close with his game leading 18 points on 8-10, but he’s only handed out three assists and has 4 of the Hornets’ 7 turnovers. The Lakers are also moving the ball, with Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol handing out 8 of the team’s 10 assists. The visitors have eight turnovers themselves, however. They need to keep their collective foot on the gas, finish this game and gain their home court advantage back.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: In a game they dominated, it’s difficult to nitpick, but the Killer B’s need to get it going again. They were active in Game 2, but need to produce more – set up plays, work the glass, be the feisty group off the bench that began the season so successfully.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Without a doubt – Andrew Bynum in the first half, Pau Gasol in the second half and Kobe Bryant from beginning to end.