Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday afternoon playoff contest against New Orleans, the Lakers looking ____, 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: C. Paul, M. Belinelli, T. Ariza, C. Landry, E. Okafor
5:00 Among the biggest differences between the two squads showed itself seven minutes into the game, with L.A. up 14-12, as centers Emeka Okafor and Andrew Bynum both picked up their second personal fouls. In for L.A. came likely Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom, while New Orleans brought in Aaron Gray, who averaged 3.1 points and 4.2 boards. Still, the Hornets had mimicked Philadelphia, Indiana, Atlanta and Memphis as the lower seed came out more loose and aggressive, going up 12-4 before a 9-0 LAL run closed the gap.
1:00 When Trevor Ariza was a Laker, he spent many practices and pregame shooting sessions guarding Bryant, but that didn’t help Ariza stay in front of Bryant in the first quarter. Kobe repeatedly got into the paint, producing his own layup and a free layup for Gasol on back-to-back possessions. Bryant made 4-of-7 shots in an aggressive first quarter for nine points.
0:01.0 A beautifully-weighted pass from Gasol to a streaking Shannon Brown allowed L.A. a buzzer-beating layup, cutting N.O.’s lead to 26-24 after one. L.A.’s biggest problem was turning the ball over five times.
8:46 L.A.’s next biggest problem was some small ball from the Hornets, who used Chris Paul and backup PG Jarrett Jack to roll off a 7-0 run to start the quarter, opening a 33-24 lead. Phil Jackson’s second unit of Trey Johnson (called up from the D-League to be used in Steve Blake’s absence), Brown, Matt Barnes, Odom and Bynum wasn’t any better than it had been in the final month of the season.
4:29 Bryant’s energy was typically excellent, but the same couldn’t be said for Gasol and Odom, who seemed to be easing their way into the playoffs (though at times, Bryant’s over-aggressive mode can take Gasol and Odom out of their games). In 13 minutes, Odom had just 2 points, one assist and no rebounds after connecting on 1-of-2 FT’s to make it 41-36 New Orleans, while Gasol had two points, three assists and one board in 14 minutes. From one All-Star and one coulda-been All-Star, the Lakers would simply need much more.
0:00 A wild final few seconds included a moment of sheer fright in the building when Bryant stayed on the ground for a full minute holding his neck after nailing a tough fadeaway jumper. Taking advantage of the ensuing odd-man break was Paul, who hit an open three … but Artest countered with a 45-foot, buzzer-beating heave to make it 55-47 Hornets at the half. The biggest story line from the first half was L.A.’s inability to handle N.O.’s pick-and-roll, Paul going off for 10 assists himself, as the Lakers managed only nine as a team.
9:00 Whatever defensive adjustments Phil Jackson and his staff made at the half worked, as L.A. earned five straight stops, reeling off a 7-0 run at the other end to climb within a point. Capping the run were two Gasol free throws after a flagrant foul on Ariza, frustrated enough with not getting a call that he elbowed Gasol at midcourt.
5:40 New Orleans pushed its lead back to eight, but immediately upon checking in, Odom drove to the hoop and stuck home a bucket off glass, his first field goal of the game. His aggression surely had L.A.’s coaching staff nodding on the sideline, and pre-empted back-to-back tough buckets from Bryant, the second capping an 8-2 run to cut N.O.’s lead to two at 65-63.
1:50 One area in which the Lakers were dominating was the foul line. Bryant’s 2-for-2 had L.A. at 22-for-29, with the Hornets just 5-for-11. Bryant had a game-high 27 points, the Hornets still clinging to a one-point lead. That’s how the quarter would end, after two hoops from Brown matched CP3′s 12th and 13 assists.
9:19 As we saw for much of the season, L.A.’s should-be-better second unit got outplayed, conceding a 9-4 run to start the fourth that had the Hornets up six points again. Barnes, still not over his sore knee, was struggling, committing consecutive fouls before being replaced by Bryant.
6:31 A deep three from Bryant pushed him to a game-high 34 points, six already in the fourth, and cut N.O.’s lead to three. L.A. was having trouble playing D without fouling, however, as six PF’s were called in the first five minutes, resulting in a parade of Hornets to the foul line that allowed N.O. to maintain its lead.
4:24 After playing the pick and roll pretty well all half, L.A. switched Gasol to Paul off high screens, Kobe following the screener, and Paul stepped back to drain consecutive jumpers that put the Hornets up 94-87. Paul had been getting good looks either for himself or teammates throughout the game, which would make the seven-point hurdle a difficult one for L.A. to climb, as stops would be so critical.
3:00 In tough situations for the past two seasons, Artest has found ways to step in, and he did so again by first nailing a corner three, then coming up with a loose ball, drawing a foul and hitting two free throws to cut N.O.’s lead to four at 96-92. Artest had a season-high 11 rebounds with his 16 points.
0:00 But while the Hornets kept going to the line, finishing with 20 FT’s in the quarter (10 from Paul), the Lakers kept missing, producing a 109-100 final. New Orleans turned the ball over only three times, and after losing all four to L.A. in the regular season in a series of mostly blowouts, came into STAPLES Center and beat L.A. in Game 1. Stay tuned for Postgame Numbers.