Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday evening road playoff contest at New Orleans Arena, the Lakers looking to win a second straight and take a 3-1 Round 1 lead, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Hornets: Paul, Belinelli, Ariza, Landry, Okafor
8:39 Another fun atmosphere in the Crescent City, and to start, this was the Pau Gasol we watched all season and in the second half of Game 3, not the one that struggled through Games 1 and 2. He opened with a pretty spin move from the left block to get a lefty hook, then hit an open 16-foot jumper to put the Lakers up 9-4.
6:45 The tone of Game 4 was similar to that of Game 3, the Hornets coming out fired up and aggressive, but simply unable to execute anything against a locked-in group of Lakers. N.O. was 3-for-6 with two turnovers, and while L.A. had made only 5-of-12 shots, they’d gathered three offensive boards and hit 4-of-6 free throws to open a 15-6 early edge. Bynum was again controlling the paint, and Artest’s physicality giving N.O. problems all over the court.
0:00 Before the game, Hornets Coach Monty Williams alluded to a famous YouTube clip in which a pack of buffalo rescue one of their young from the fangs of lions (or is it crocodiles … you can watch), trying to motivate his team to play against the Lakers (lions). N.O. definitely came out with fire, but the Lakers were able to hold them at bay through 12 minutes, taking a 25-22 lead behind nine points from Artest and eight from Gasol. Trevor Ariza was extremely aggressive/confident on offense, uncharacteristically efficient while making 6-of-8 shots for 12 points to help N.O. hang around.
8:00 After getting the best of N.O.’s bench in Games 2 and 3, key to L.A.’s victories, the second unit was +3 on that of the Hornets in the first few minutes of the second after a Steve Blake three. Meanwhile, N.O. played a video on their Jumbotron of all the regular Lakers celebs with photoshopped Hornets logos, which was OK until they put Jack in the middle and ended with someone else. That can’t happen even while being facetious.
3:44 I happened to run into Ron Artest at the team’s hotel on Saturday, and we had a chat about how he feels opposing coaches don’t respect how good his offensive game still is, since he’s focused so much on defense as a Laker. And he’s right, too, which he showed in the first half by canning 7-of-9 shots, including a transition layup and his second three-pointer to reach a team-high 16 points while putting L.A. up 45-37. This while Bryant was somehow scoreless on 0-for-6 FG’s. The Hornets had the exact production from their SF and PG, Ariza (16 points) and Paul (0 points).
0:00 That Artest three, however, was the last time L.A. would score in the half, N.O. rattling off 12 straight points to head into halftime with a 49-45 lead. Bryant (who looked to have gotten hit on one if not a few of his arthritic right fingers) finished 0-for-7, though one of his misses was clearly a goaltend on Okafor. He also nearly had his eighth assist on a pretty pass to Gasol, but the Spaniard’s layup attempt was also blocked by Okafor.
11:16 An unfortunate start to the third for L.A., as Bynum easily swallowed up Landry’s baseline FGA, but Landry gathered the loose ball and fed Paul for an open three, giving N.O. its biggest lead at 52-45.
8:13 Back-to-back fouls on the same trip got the Hornets to four as a team, meaning the Lakers would be in the bonus for the rest of the period. We’d see if they could use it to their advantage … OK, that happened quick. Okafor bumped Bryant on the next possession, resulting immediately in two FT’s. Kobe, who’d made his first FG moments earlier after his scoreless first half, then scored again for eight of L.A.’s 11 points in the period.
2:58 The battle continued at both ends, L.A. this time drawing a foul on Okafor (his fourth, bringing D.J. Mbenga in) and hitting 1-of-2 FT’s to tie the game at 61. Meanwhile, CP3 was hunting down a triple double with 11 points, 11 assists and nine boards. Bryant would add two late free throws to bring L.A. within two at quarter’s close (69-67), all 14 of his points coming in the period.
9:25 L.A. had followed the road formula in super high energy arenas of staying close through three, and out-executing the home squad in the fourth. They’d have their chance here in New Orleans, down two after a Bynum jumper.
8:23 After tweeting that N.O.’s all-out effort had produced 17 second-chance points to just two for the Lakers through three quarters, N.O. got its 12th offensive rebound, which ultimately resulted in a Willie Green 3-pointer. After a missed three from Shannon Brown on the other end, Paul somehow got an and-1 call with Steve Blake backing up, the and-1 putting N.O. up 79-72.
4:24 After a step-back jumper from Paul put the Hornets up nine, matching their biggest lead, Blake hit his second three and Bryant a leaning two to get L.A. back within four. Out of the ensuing time out, Jackson would come back with his trusted starting group of Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol. Bryant would immediately earn two free throws, making just one, to cut it to 81-78.
0:33.6 An intense, crazy final few minutes included a ton of free throws, an ankle sprain for Kobe (his bad left ankle, no less), offense-defense subs of Bryant and Brown that Bryant didn’t like, Gasol fumbling of a pass and atonement on the next possession, and finally two pressure-packed free throws from quiet-all-game Odom to get L.A. within two with 33.6 left.
0:09.3 So much Chris Paul in this one. Demanding to be considered again as the league’s top PG, Paul — with 27 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds — drew three Lakers playing the pick and roll well into the paint as the shot clock expired, but somehow found Jack on a cut, his ensuing dagger jumper putting N.O. up four. Gasol then got an open dunk off a nice slip screen play off Phil Jackson’s clipboard, but Jack made both free throws on the ensuing foul to push the lead back to four. That’d be the final:
Hornets 93, Lakers 88.
0 First half points for Kobe Bryant, who missed all seven of his shots, though he did have seven assists. Bryant appeared to have gotten hit on one of his sore fingers early in the contest, but he bounced back with 14 points in the third quarter alone. He’d finish with 17, though the turning of his troubled left ankle in the final minutes was a troubling way for him to end the game.
1 Triple double in the game for Chris Paul, who finished with 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds in a ridiculous effort.
6 Minimum number of games in this series due to the Hornets’ win, tied at 2 just like Dallas and Portland.
7 More rebounds grabbed by the attacking-all-game Hornets, who hit the offensive glass 12 times. No Laker had more than nine boards (Andrew Bynum).
16 Points through three quarters for Ron Artest, who’d been terrific all series. He played little in the fourth quarter, however, Phil Jackson going with the second unit, then leaving Shannon Brown in since the Hornets were playing two point guards in Chris Paul and Jarrett Jack.
18 Bench points for the Lakers, which was only one fewer than New Orleans’s 19, but only six of them came from Lamar Odom on 1-of-7 FG’s. L.A. needed more out of its Sixth Man of the Year.