Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Wednesday evening home playoff contest against New Orleans, the Lakers looking to even the first round series at one, 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
New Orleans: C. Paul, M. Belinelli, T. Ariza, C. Landry, E. Okafor
5:50 We expected Pau Gasol to come out really strong to avenge what was likely his worst playoff game as a Laker, but he hadn’t yet found his range in the early goings, missing all but one of his first four attempts from the field. Newly-crowned Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom, who was honored with a pregame celebration, would check in moments later.
3:42 The biggest Hornets lead of the quarter came as Aaron Gray, in early for Emeka Okafor due to two early personal fouls, hit a leaner in the lane to make it 20-11. New Orleans was playing with house money, having already earned its desired split on the road, and the Lakers a bit tight while missing several easy looks around the rim.
0:15.0 From then on, it was much better for L.A., as shown by a 12-3 run to close the quarter tied at 23 all. Lamar Odom’s six points on 3-of-4 shooting was key, while the defensive effort from subs Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Shannon Brown helped cool down a Hornets team that started hot.
7:54 The good D continued from the second unit, forcing four turnovers in the first four minutes (seven total) on a Hornets team that committed only three to match a playoff record in Game 1. Meanwhile, Barnes was also doing it on offense, converting an alley-oop layup for his third make in as many attempts, putting L.A. up 31-29.
5:43 Without question, this was the best we’d seen L.A.’s second unit look in recent weeks. Odom had eight points, Barnes six with two steals, Blake five assists and two boards and Brown two boards with two dimes, the second of which getting Bynum an and-1 (he missed the FT) that put the Lakers up 35-31. The lead would grow to 10 at 43-33 moments later thanks to an 8-0 run sparked by defensive intensity.
0:00 L.A. opened a 12-point lead on Bryant’s first field goal, but then conceded back-to-back threes in the final minute from Ariza and Paul (at the buzzer) that made it a 47-41 margin at the half. If it were soccer, the announcers would have said the final minute was “against the run of play,” as the Lakers dominated the period to an extent that didn’t show on the scoreboard. Nonetheless, N.O. had L.A.’s attention, the team from the second quarter looking like the one that went 17-1 out of the break.
6:18 What happened to L.A.’s offense? Since a Bynum put-back layup of Kobe’s missed drive with 10:37 left, Gasol badly missed on a fadeaway after getting pushed out of the lane by Landry (which had been happening all night), Bynum missed a 9-foot jumper and then committed an offensive foul trying to free Kobe for a shot, Fisher was blocked, and Artest and Bryant missed back-to-back three-pointers. They still led by five, however, as N.O. wasn’t doing much scoring either.
3:04 Then, the bucket started going in, mostly from the paint, with Odom capping a run by nailing back-to-back running shots that created a 12-point lead. Odom had been terrific in his 15 minutes, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
0:00 But for the second straight quarter, Paul would nail a buzzer-beating three to again make things look better for the Hornets than they were, trimming L.A.’s lead down to seven at 63-56. Meanwhile, can you remember the last time both Bryant (2-for-7) and Gasol (2-for-10) struggled at the same time? Me either, but a testament to the games from Odom, Artest (12 points, six boards) and Bynum (15 points, eight boards).
9:18 Two real positive signs for LAL on this night came from offseason signings Barnes and Blake, who started the fourth as well as they played in the first half. Barnes, moving like he was before knee surgery in January, streaked up the floor in transition to finish his fourth field in four attempts. Then, the third “Killah B,” Shanon Brown, nailed an open three created by Bynum to put the Lakers up 72-59.
6:09 More Odom, this time scoring on a leaner to open a 76-61, getting himself to a game-best +19. For those not familiar with the +/- stat, that meant L.A. outscored N.O. by 19 points when Odom was on the floor. Bryant was just a +4, and Gasol a +5.
2:19 For any fans of Street Fighter 2, the way Chris Paul went down after barely touching feet with Ron Artest exactly resembled the way Ken might go down after a Ryu leg sweep. The Lakers had control of the game, but the Hornets were still buzzing around, drawing fouls on three-pointers (Paul, again, plus a tech on Kobe for arguing that Paul simply kicked his leg out) and such.
0:40.1 But it was L.A.’s night, as Gasol tipped out a miss that eventually made its way into the hands of Artest, who nailed a dagger three that put L.A. up 84-74. After a Hornets three and some free throws, the Lakers wound up with an 87-78 victory, intent upon re-gaining home court in New Orleans on Sunday evening. Stay tuned for your numbers: