After allowing a little fear to ripple through the greater Los Angeles area Sunday afternoon (lingering through off days Monday and Tuesday), the Lakers overcame a slow start to restore some order in their first round matchup against New Orleans. Tied 1-1, the series heads to New Orleans for Game 3 Friday night.
The result was expected, as was the relatively comfortable margin of victory. How they got there, though, held a few surprises, starting with five field goals between Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Not exactly a conventional recipe for success.
Here's how it broke down...
1. Andrew Bynum. In Game 1, Bynum never gave himself an opportunity to make an impact, because he was saddled with foul trouble. Wednesday night, he solved that problem, and was arguably the best player on the floor for the Lakers. Offensively, Bynum was extremely aggressive, whether facing up on Aaron Gray with short jumpers, or working on the block. In one outstanding second quarter sequence, Bynum used a nice baby hook to score on one end, hustled back in time to gain position on Emeka Okafor for a rock solid defensive rebound, then worked his way back through the lane at the other end, fielding a terrible lob from Shannon Brown, gathering and finishing for the and-one.Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire
Andrew Bynum was a difficult cover for the Hornets Wednesday night. Maybe because he was so well camouflaged?
Defensively, Bynum was a big reason New Orleans weren't nearly as successful scoring in the paint. He was the deterrent inside the Lakers needed, and combined with much better organization along the perimeter for L.A., contributed to a far better night on that side of the floor.
He finished with 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting, plus 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks.
2. Lamar Odom. Thanks to the attention given Gasol, Odom's poor effort in Game 1 was less an issue than it otherwise might have been. But while Pau struggled to bounce back, one day after receiving his Sixth Man of the Year Award Odom showed why he deserved it, quickly making an impact after entering late in the first quarter. He converted at the bucket on a great lob from Bryant out of a timeout, and on the next trip slipped through traffic along the right baseline to finish a driving layup. He finished the first quarter with a 20-footer tying the game at 23.
In the third, Odom hit consecutive shots in the lane pushing L.A.'s lead from seven to 11, then helped keep the Hornets at arms length with a face up jumper over Carl Landry in the fourth. After a hot start, the Lakers stalled offensively, particularly in the third, but Odom was among those providing the boost they needed. He finished with 16 points on 8-for-12 from the floor, plus seven boards and a pair of assists.
3. Bench Play. Spotty to say the least in Game 1, the reserves put forth a much stronger effort Wednesday. Returning from his bout with the chickenpox, Steve Blake piled up five assists in his first five minutes on the floor, and did a credible job defensively when matched up against Chris Paul and Jarrett Jack. Matt Barnes, a total non-factor Sunday, made his presence felt with eight points, making all four of his shot attempts, plus four rebounds, and two steals. Brown (making up for a couple wobbly choices in the first half) kicked in with a timely triple from the left wing in the fourth, pushing a 10-point lead to 13.
More importantly, at the other end, the bench flipped the script on the Game 1 loss, limiting the Hornets' subs offensively one game after that crew shot over 70 percent as a group.
4. Ron Artest. Number one sign this wasn't exactly a conventional night for L.A.'s offense? Bryant and Gasol weren't the first, second, or even third guys in terms of offensive production. Nope, right there with Bynum and Odom was none other than Artest, who kicked in with 15 points- including a three in the final minute to truly ice the game- and as it was in Game 1 remained very active in the paint and inside on the glass, grabbing three offensive boards (six overall). From there, Artest dropped some numbers in other parts of the box score, with a pair each of assists, steals, and blocks.
5. Team Defense. Limiting the pick and roll is a group exercise, one the group failed Sunday but bounced back well in Wednesday's win. The massive gaps at the point of attack, allowing Paul and Jack to penetrate into the paint with ease, closed up. Meanwhile, the Lakers did a nice job forcing the ball out of CP3's hands, demanding other Hornets make plays. Sometimes they did- Trevor Ariza had a solid game for New Orleans- but generally not. Paul wasn't awful, finishing with 20 points and nine dimes, but his production didn't have the same destructive power as Game 1. Six of his points came on end-of-quarter buzzer beaters, and a few more from the stripe after getting fouled behind the arc.
Obviously those points count, but on Sunday Paul basically eviscerated the Lakers by himself, breaking down L.A.'s entire defensive structure and turning guys like Gray into All-Stars. In Game 2 he was contained.
Moreover, after only forcing three turnovers in Game 1, the Lakers harassed the Hornets into 16 Wednesday, leading to 22 points on a night where the offense de-eleganted itself following a strong start. Overall, the Hornets shot under 40 percent, and grabbed only nine offensive rebounds on 42 missed field goals (and 12 more bricks from the line- a major problem in their attack).
1. Pau Gasol. One of the examples Gasol used following Game 1 to illustrate his lack of aggression was an absence of offensive boards. He solved that problem Wednesday, grabbing five and generally working hard to be useful creating second chance points. Another area in which he suffered- and I do mean suffered- was on defense. Tonight, Gasol was a far more positive factor defending screen and roll sets, and blocked three shots.
But man alive, his offensive game once again was very poor, and Gasol found himself struggling to hold position inside, whether matched up against Okafor, Gray, or particularly Landry, who used his low center of gravity (something we short people like to emphasize as a positive) to push Gasol well off his comfort spots. More than once, Pau was forced into brutally tough fadeaway jumpers because he couldn't get a base on his shots. Even the normally automatic open jumpers he took didn't connect. When he tried to force the issue with aggressive moves into the paint, Gasol was no more successful. He's now 4-for-19 through two games.
It's never good when a guy so skilled finishes with more turnovers (three) than field goals (two). He missed eight of his 10 shots, and didn't grab a defensive rebound. I wrote before the game it would be nearly impossible for Gasol and Odom to again combine for 18 points, as they did in Game 1. Pau did his darnedest to make a liar out of me.
2. Kobe Bryant. If Gasol's line offensively was bad- and it was- Kobe's wasn't much better. 3-for-10 from the floor- three FG's representing his lowest total in a playoff game since the 2000 Finals against Indiana- with two turnovers to go with a pair of dimes. As the game went along, Bryant clearly started forcing the issue, looking to create space off the dribble (without a ton of success) and hoisting some very questionable shots after very questionable clock usage. Granted, and almost surely by design, a lot of the really bad shots came after the game was fairly well decided and Bryant sought to right the ship for Game 3 Friday night, but it doesn't make the results any better.
His categorization here comes with caveats, for sure.
To his credit, rather than settling for jumpers Kobe was aggressive throughout the game working into traffic, and clearly felt he deserved a few more whistles in his favor (I'm sure Lakers fans agree). He was also a very strong limiting factor on Paul, picking up a very tough defensive assignment and doing solid work (save a couple horrible fouls, and a misjudgment at the end of the first half, when he allowed Paul to pull up from three as the clock expired). Importantly, in the first half he was content to let guys like Bynum and Odom do the heavy lifting as the defense threw a lot of attention his way, limiting his offense in response.
"I thought Kobe's patience was really key. It really helped us establish Andrew and Pau. Allowed Lamar to get some extra opportunities, and also Ron got some extra opportunities tonight," Derek Fisher said. "It wasn't that he wasn't aggressive, I just think that when two people came to him, he kicked it to somebody else, and then they made the right play."
Overall, it wasn't a prolific game, or at the very least not a complete one. Hardly a train wreck- a lowlight-lite, if you prefer- and nothing worrisome as the consecutive stinkers from Gasol, but certainly not quite up to his lofty standards.