Sting us once, shame on you. Sting us twice, shame on us. That’s what it should say on the Laker white board before Game 5, because if this were a game of missed opportunities, the Lakers would have won, hands down. They had a nine-point lead in the first quarter, then squandered it with careless offense and absent defense (I’m talking to you over there, guarding Trevor Ariza who scored 16 first-half points, ahem, Kobe Bryant). The Hornets made runs to increase their leads throughout the game, and so did the Lakers to catch up. But with each chance to either take the game over, the road team failed to execute time and time again and it cost them another game to finish off this series.
After such effective defense on Chris Paul in Games 2 and 3, the Lakers reverted back to their generous ways, allowing the Hornets’ point guard to get whatever he wanted in this game. Derek Fisher actually had a few effective defensive possessions on Paul, which the Lakers might’ve given him more opportunities to do. Unfortunately, they were caught on switches again, and when Paul sees Gasol or Bynum guarding him, it must literally be like a predator sizing up its prey. 27 points on 7-14, 13 rebounds and 15 assists. 13 REBOUNDS. That work on the glass equals effort says something about Paul’s stat line, because he was overflowing with effort in this game, which is more than can be said of the Laker bigs, none of whom even cracked double digits on the glass.
Pau Gasol had 16 points on 6-11 but had just four rebounds. Lamar Odom, a complete non-factor in this game, managed just six points and four rebounds. Ron Artest, 16 points on 7-10 (all in the first half), had just 4 rebounds as well. Chris Paul = 13 rebounds, Gasol/Odom/Artest = 12 rebounds. At least Andrew Bynum grabbed nine boards to go along with his 16 points on 6-11. And that was despite playing almost the entire game in foul trouble. The Lakers, as a team, were outrebounded by the Hornets 39-32, and as it’s been repeated tirelessly (though apparently not enough times to the Lakers themselves), a team with two seven-footers and a 6’11” forward should never be outrebounded.
Kobe Bryant, for his part, did everything he could do tonight. He went 0-7 in the first half, but handed out seven assists, always scanning for scoring opportunities. He could have had a lot more dimes if his teammates converted some of his passes. He finished with 17 points, six rebounds, eight assists and a steal. Late in the fourth quarter, with the Lakers keeping it close, he twisted his ankle but, as is his nature, he refused to leave the game when a chance for victory was still possible. The Lakers were plagued, however, by some late-game foibles by Gasol (who wasn’t prepared to receive a pass from Bryant while he stood the hoop), Odom (whose offensive rebound was taken by Jarrett Jack), and Artest who lost sight of his defensive assignment and allowed Jack to get a jumper in the final seconds to give the Hornets a four-point lead.
Game 5 will be no easy win for this Lakers team, especially if their collective efforts mirror that of tonight’s game. That this series has been pushed to six games says something about the New Orleans Hornets and the defending champs would do well to review their Game 2 and 3 footage. It’s no mystery how they won those games. Now they have to adjust again, execute and finish.
Pre-game Thoughts: Expect a feisty game tonight with the Hornets fighting to keep the Lakers from going back to Staples with a 3- series lead.
Half-time Thoughts: 45-49 – The Lakers led by nine points early in the first quarter, but they let the Hornets, led by Trevor Ariza’s 16 points, to make a run and then eventually take over the lead late in the second. Ron Artest has been the Lakers’ scorer so far, and with Kobe Bryant going 0-7, they’ve needed him. All the momentum going into the half belong to the Hornets and the Lakers would do well to make all their negatives (points, rebounds, assists) into positives if they want to leave New Orleans with a victory. Bryant does have seven of the Lakers’ 10 assists, but other players need to get involved in running the offense as well. Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol only have three rebounds COMBINED. The Lakers allowed the Hornets to shoot 53% in the half, fell asleep on defense to before the break. At least they’re taking care of the ball with just four turnovers.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Lamar Odom – in just over 24 minutes of playing time, the Sixth Man of the Year produced six points on 1-7, four rebounds and two turnovers. In a game as close as this was, every x-factor is a factor, and Odom could’ve been the difference.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Chris Paul – He did EVERYTHING to get his team the win tonight and it can’t be emphasized enough how his leadership carries the Hornets. A triple-double to get the victory – that’s what great captains do and Paul is the perfect example.