“I didn’t see him limp one time – did you?” Chris Paul said from the podium when asked about Kobe Bryant’s ankle. The reporter answered that he did indeed see him limp a few times, to which Paul answered, “You probably weren’t watching the same game.”
You’re right, CP, we didn’t see Kobe Bryant limp either. We did, however, see him dunk on Emeka Okafor, which he followed up in the second half with a lefty dunk over Carl Landry. Lessons learned (if it hasn’t been already)? If Kobe Bryant doesn’t want an MRI, trust him. Even if it looked like he rolled, banged or twisted something, trust him. If he thinks discussing his injuries and ailments are a waste of time, seriously, trust him.
Bryant didn’t just “play through” whatever new or re-aggravated injury he had. He rammed his way into it at full force to the tune of 19 points on an efficient 8-13 from the field, adding four dimes, a pair of rebounds and a steal to go with it.
“The more I played, the looser it got,” Bryant said of his ankle. And the two monster dunks over the Hornets’ Okafor and Landry? Bryant just saw he would be challenged in the open lane and said he was up for it. “[My teammates] know I save those. I don’t have many of those left.” It was good thing Bryant had the sense to break out one of those rare, old school dunks, because it energized his teammates, not to mention everyone at Staples Center (heck, everyone watching at home even). He followed that up with a spin move into a floater, and then finished the half with another layup to help maintain the Lakers’ lead. And it wasn’t only the field goal percentage that was impressive; it was that he did it all in just over 28 minutes of playing time. The reason for the rare sub-30 minute game in a playoff game?
The Laker bench. Down by nine at the end of the first quarter where the Lakers allowed the Hornets to shoot a staggering 81% from the field, Lamar Odom and the Killer B’s opened the second quarter with an 8-0 run that cut the lead to a single point. It was in that quarter that the home team finally woke up and the reserves can take credit for that. The bench didn’t necessarily shoot well (just 8-25 from the field), but it wasn’t their offense that did the Hornets in. It was their defense and outright energy. Yes, they outscored the visiting reserves 29-14, but it was also their 18 rebounds, six assists and three steals that helped their team. It was Odom (13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block) exerting his size on defense, Matt Barnes’ undivided attention on the offensive glass (four boards that led to nine Laker points), Steve Blake’s maintenance of the offense (3 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists), and Shannon Brown’s timely three pointers and refusal to back down from Willy Green. The Laker bench showed a lot of hustle out there, which is what the team needs from them in every contest.
That hustle also came in the Lakers outrebounding the Hornets 42-25, outplaying them in the paint, and fighting for second chance points, which they won 22-2.
The defense for the Lakers in this game was much more active and alert compared to the last. They allowed 81% shooting in the first quarter, but allowed only 41% in the second, 35% in the third, and 41% in the fourth. And the Chris Paul issue? He had 11 points and eight assists in 20 minutes of floor time after the first half, but only managed nine more points and four more assists in the 20 minutes he played in the second half. He also led the game with four turnovers.
When asked about how his Hornets were beat, Chris Paul cited the Lakers’ balanced contribution. “We have to figure out what we can take out,” he said. Six Lakers scored in double figures – Artest (11 points), Gasol (16 points, 8 rebounds), Bynum (18 points, 10 rebounds), Bryant (19 points), Derek Fisher (13 points) and Odom (13 points). Every player, save for Shannon Brown, handed out an assist. The Lakers had 20 assists on 37 made field goals.
The Hornets, in contrast, had just three players taking up the bulk of the scoring. Along with Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza tied his playoff high with 22 points on 8-17 and Marco Bellinelli, after trudging through the series, finally broke out of his slump with 21 points on 8-14. The Hornets tried to keep the game close with their 10-21 from behind the arc, but with so little contribution from anyone else, they couldn’t stand long enough to defeat the Lakers tonight.
It’s been said before, and it wouldn’t hurt to emphasize it again. For a team this long and talent-filled, the plan to get the win is always a simple one: ball movement, use of size on both ends and rebounds. Rocket science, it most certainly is not, and if the Lakers want to finish this series, there is but this simple plan to carry out in Game 6. The bottom line, beneath all the technicalities, the defending champs need to play as one unit. They did it tonight. Asked after the game what woke the team up after such a horrible defensive performance in the first quarter, Ron Artest answered matter-of-factly, “We just hung in there, and believed in each other.”
Pre-game Thoughts: First team to 2 games wins the series, and hopefully the Lakers are done with the half-efforts and play like they did in Game 3 – with purpose and with energy. With Kobe Bryant injured, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom ABSOLUTELY need to step in and lead this team like they should. Efforts by Bryant, Derek Fisher, Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest will not win this series. The game needs to be played with a collective and consistent effort by the defending champs who just need to play like defending champs.
Half-time Thoughts: 51-54 – The Hornets shot 81% in the first quarter and the Lakers got behind by as much as nine points, but the bench came in the second quarter and closed the gap, setting the table for a 12-point show from Kobe Bryant. It was a collective effort by the home team, who have forced New Orleans into 11 first half turnovers. Trevor Ariza may be taking advantage of a hobbling Bryant on defense (he has 16 points on 6-10), but no one else but he and Chris Paul (8 assists) are doing much else for the Hornets. If the Lakers can come out in the second half with not only the same, but a greater energy on both ends, this victory is as good as theirs.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Messy game tonight with the Hornets committing 19 turnovers and the Lakers no better with 16.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Laker Bench – If there were ever a time to come through for your team, tonight was it for the Sixth Man of the Year and the Killer B’s. They cut the Hornets’ lead to begin the fourth and then increased the lead to begin the fourth.