Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Thursday evening road contest at New Orleans, the Lakers — up 3-2 in the series — looking to win a close-out game for the 11th time in 12 tries, 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
11:00 The close out game, for this Lakers team, is as tempting as a Hershey’s Cookies & Cream candy bar is to Lamar Odom. L.A. has won 10-of-11 straight games with a chance to put an opponent away for good, with Bryant scoring at least 30 points in an NBA record eight straight opportunities. Among the early keys pointed out by Phil Jackson before the game was controlling the foul situation, which was the case early as N.O. committed two fouls in the first two minutes trying to deal with Bynum and Gasol.
6:28 New Orleans became something like the 15th franchise to use “Beat L.A.!” t-shirts, in Hornets teal, and had some reason to cheer early with L.A. missing plenty of good looks (2-for-10) as Kobe struggled to get his ankle loose, and Artest (who’d been seventh in the entire playoffs in FG% coming in) missed consecutive open shots. But L.A.’s D was very good, allowing a 14-10 lead minutes later despite 6-for-17 shooting as a team.
0:00 In short, L.A. was relatively poor on offense but very good on D in a quarter they claimed 18-16, despite a late breakdown in which Gasol was stripped in the paint and Artest committed a clear path foul in transition to ensure the Lakers wouldn’t get the ball back. Phil Jackson just looked down at the floor, not too amused.
9:09 It was as if we were back in Game 3 before Bynum tweaked his knee, the young center dominating N.O. in the first three minutes of the second. He scored six straight points, and got up to seven rebounds by putting back Odom’s miss. When he forgets about his knee and just goes — or perhaps more accurately, just feels better — L.A. can reach the peak of its power. In non-related news, N.O. pulled the old jumbotron skit of the mascot stuffing a pie in a Lakers fan’s face.
2:05 Another strong defensive stretch paid off at the other end, L.A. taking a 40-32 lead on 1-of-2 Odom free throws that followed Fisher’s open jumper. Fish had previously assisted on consecutive hoops from Odom, Artest and Bryant during the 10-2 spurt that called up memories of so many Lakers close out games.
0:00 For the second straight quarter, L.A. made a mental error in the final seconds as Bryant and Fisher couldn’t connect on a routine perimeter pass, but N.O. couldn’t capitalize, trailing L.A. by six at the break as Paul did hit his first shot of the game (only two FGA’s) a possession earlier. It was interesting to see the Hornets try hard to get their wings involved, Ariza & Belinelli combining for 13 FGA’s, as N.O.’s been much better simply letting Paul do everything himself.
7:21 A potentially key play early in the third as Bryant drove into Okafor to get N.O.’s center his 4th PF, bringing Aaron Gray into the action. Gasol had also finally gotten going a bit on offense, hitting his first two field goals of the game in succession.
5:44 L.A. started running its offense through Kobe, and with New Orleans opting to aggressively double team him, open looks were created for first Gasol and then Bynum, pushing the lead to 10. Phil’s road formula had been followed to a T at that point.
3:37 But as soon as Jackson didn’t like what he was seeing, this after a turnover and a defensive breakdown led to a 4-0 Hornets run, he called time out. With 11 titles as a coach, Jackson’s quick to recognize a flow he’s not fond of, and is much more likely to act upon it in a close out game than one where he’d like the team to figure it out themselves.
0:00 The Lakers couldn’t have drawn up a better close to the quarter, getting a strip and resulting layup from Artest (and the obvious ensuing bicep flex) and then two free throws from Bryant after he drew a flagrant foul on Jason Smith. Bryant then clapped his hands together for a good 10 seconds, his expression suggesting that he was more than game for a bit of extra contact.
10:12 Some terrific play from L.A.’s second unit continued that strong finish to the third to put the Lakers in full control, consecutive offensive boards producing an Odom three and Bynum 15-footer. After another defensive stop (N.O. failed to score on four straight trips down), Odom added two free throws to make it a 76-59 Lakers lead.
7:22 And that may have been the best stretch of the season for L.A.’s bench. With Bynum and Odom leading the way, L.A. pushed its lead to 20 (82-62) with a 13-5 run to start the quarter. Bynum was everywhere, reaching 16 points with 11 boards by grabbing his eighth offensive board of the game, while Odom’s stat line jumped to 14 points, seven boards and four assists.
3:35 New Orleans was still scrapping as it had all series, even knocking Bryant hard on the back of the head with an elbow (Landry, who’d been almost as chippy as Chris Paul), trying to generate any kind of late momentum. But two Bryant free throws and Gasol’s tip in kept L.A. in front 90-73, a trip to the second round just a matter of running out the clock.
0:00 Monty Williams gave his starters a final substitution so they could be cheered by an appreciative audience as two Matt Barnes three-pointers pushed L.A.’s lead back to 20. The final score, after a final N.O. dunk, was 98-80. On to the second round.
8 Consecutive times Kobe Bryant scored at least 30 points in a close out game for the Lakers, an NBA record snapped on this day primarily because LAL’s second unit was so great to start the fourth quarter.
11 Times in the last 12 playoff series in which the Lakers have closed out an opponent the first time they had such an opportunity. They did it in all four 2010 playoff series, and 3-of-4 in 2009, the only loss coming in Game 6 against Houston in the Conference Semi’s.
12 Rebounds for Andrew Bynum, eight of which came on the offensive end, as the young center dominated the paint at both ends for much of his time on the floor. He added 18 points, two blocks and a steal in a terrific all-around effort.
14 Points off the bench for Lamar Odom, just seven fewer than N.O.’s entire second unit. Odom also pitched in eight boards and four assists in perhaps his best game of the series.
42 Hornets shooting percentage for the game, L.A.’s D playing excellent throughout while setting the tone in a first half N.O. managed just 16 and 18 points in respective quarters. The Lakers forced 14 turnovers, and held Chris Paul to only 10 points with 11 assists.