Although the Lakers start to the playoffs wasn’t what their fans may have wanted, the series was thankfully tied 1-1 heading into Game 3.
There have been multiple agreements on what has caused a slump, both heading into playoffs, and even in both Games 1 and 2. One thing that we can agree on is this: a road game is what the Lakers needed in this series. Whether it’s leaving the comforts of home, being disconnected from the LA area, or even just away from Staples Center, the Lakers needed a rejuvenation to finally turn this series around, and begin forming into the team that can win its third straight championship.
The slump form of Pau Gasol, stress of another Bynum injury, and requirement of Kobe Bryant guarding Chris Paul in Game 2 to prevent him from another 30 plus point game is causing Los Angeles to struggle with their new form. The changes are a shock, but maybe it’s what’s needed if a three-peat is desired in 2011.
If Game 3 is anything like what Phil Jackson and Lakers Nation wants, many aspects of the game will be improved upon tonight. First, Pau Gasol needs to become a dominant figure in the series. Both him and Andrew Bynum, when they’re on form, are unstoppable. Rebounding, points in the paint, and simple defense is what the Lakers use to push far beyond any opponent they come up against, and the lack of that in the first few games, especially Game 1, was strongly noticed and ridiculed. Second, the Lakers bench needs to become as important as the starting five. The awarding of Lamar Odom’s 6th man of the year award should be enough incentive, but we need our 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th men to work just as hard if we want anything to do with the Semi’s. Third, Kobe Bryant’s defense was definitely needed Game 2 to shut down CP3. In order for this team to grow and force it’s way through every team they face, Kobe needs to find his shot again, no matter how much defense he was playing. He needs to share his energy with more than just the defensive aspect of the game versus the Hornets, and sink more shots to get the Lakers to become the dominant force leading into the Western Conference Finals.
Ex Laker Trevor Ariza, plus Chris Paul, combined for a total of 42 points Game 2. Unfortunately for the Hornets, their 39% FG percentage killed their chances to take a 2-0 lead in the series, and they now host the two time defending champions this Friday night at home in the New Orleans Arena.
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The game started off with two quick Lakers baskets, one from Bynum immediately followed by a jump-shot from Artest. The New Orleans crowd seemed very riled up with every play the Hornets made, with an and-one drive by Ariza pushing NO up by two. Kobe Bryant had the ball stripped multiple times early, making the game look like it would be exactly that of the first of the series, until the Lakers warmed up and finally started making baskets in the paint.
Ariza started 2-4, becoming the key player for the Hornets in the first quarter, showing the most energy from the offensive end of the game. One key thing that has led the Hornets above their opponents was success beyond the three point arc, which they didn’t find within the first, allowing the Lakers to capitalize upon it.
We also saw a new light in Ron Artest, starting off 3-3 and driving down the lane, shutting down any New Orleans attempt at defense.
The Hornets looked to not have one of the golden rules of basketball down: never foul a jump shooter. Kobe made a trip to the line halfway through the quarter, pushing the Lakers up 16-10 until Phil Jackson called for the games first timeout. The Lakers offense looked slightly stagnant, but their defense was spot on, giving them the upper hand in the first 12 minutes of the game.
The passing of the five minute mark allowed the New Orleans arena to get a show, whether they wanted it or not. Kobe Bryant put in another basket on liftoff, smashing a dunk home. He then, when fouled, was able to throw a hook shot in off the glass when it looked like he was heading out of bounds, forcing a New Orleans time out. The Black Mamba was playing defense, but was also proving that he would be able to put up 30 plus points at the same time.
With the Lakers up six, 6th man of the year Lamar Odom was introduced to the game, hoping to capitalize on the Lakers dominant start. Outside from Ariza, the start of the quarter wasn’t what New Orleans wanted at all. Out of the four players that had points, three of them had made only a single field goal. The Hornets were allowing the Lakers to get layups too easily, and were being way too weak on the defensive end after the time out.
Full Court pressure was forced by the Hornets with a minute remaining, but it didn’t seem to do much, as the Lakers immediately had an offensive rebound giving Gasol the wide open jumper for another two points.
A great leap and block from Shannon Brown was proved pointless, as Chris Paul followed up with a three from the corner, keeping the Hornets nipping at the Lakers heels. A chicken pox free Blake, along with Barnes entered the game to end the quarter.
While there was “hysteria” from Khloe Kardashian’s tweet earlier in the day about a possible injury to Lamar Odom, there was something off with our 6th man of the year in the closing minutes of the quarter. He kept giving the ball away and wasn’t draining shots he would typically make. But he proved his worth at the final seconds, getting a three-point play to finish the First with Los Angeles up seven, 30-23.
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The second started with a Barnes dunk, pushing the Lakers total for points in the paint up to 22, against the Hornets mere 10. Bynum’s offense continued to get better and better, with his strength proving dominant when he added another point to his collection.
With 14 minutes gone in the game, not one New Orleans player had double digits on the board. The Lakers finally looked like they wanted to play both sides of the court, which is needed if they want to lift another trophy.
Lamar Odom began showing his athleticism, driving to the basket to push LA up to 36 points, a high number compared to their first two games of the series. Along with Odom, the bench began to step up, with Barnes playing some spectacular defense, and Brown getting involved in every play. Andrew Bynum kept knocking down basket after basket, looking more and more comfortable and confident as every second ticked by.
The Lakers big three, (Bynum, Gasol, and Odom), continued dominating in the paint, and continued to be too much for the Hornets defense to handle.
New Orleans began making baskets, but the announcers turned back to the subject of Andrew Bynum quickly as he got his fourth offensive rebound of the game, followed by his 12th point of the half. Whenever the Hornets made a great basket, the Lakers responded with an even better basket before the NO fans could even start cheering.
The Hornets were 1-8 from beyond the arc, while the Lakers were shutting off their points in the paint completely.
A 13-foot jumper from Chris Paul brought the Hornets back within five, making it look like New Orleans would continue to inch closer and closer as the game continued. An Emeka Okafor out of bounds lost ball turnover allowed Phil Jackson to call for a timeout, giving the Lakers possession with just below three minutes remaining. Although LA had missed 11 shots in the Second quarter, they had eight offensive rebounds, proving the Hornet’s defense to be practically non-existent.
Browns first points of the game came off a dunk assisted by Gasol, which then led to Okafor drawing a foul from Gasol to send him to the line to put the score at 49-39. A pair of misses by the Lakers allowed to Hornet’s to get back into the game going into half time, but they couldn’t capitalize, fumbling the ball out of bounds giving the ball back to Los Angeles. Bynum charged towards the basket, drawing another foul sending him to the line once again, bumping his point total up to 13 as the half ended.
The Hornets weren’t ready to head to the locker room yet, which was shown when Chris Paul was sent to the line after another aggressive drive to the basket in the closing seconds. He only made the first free throw attempt, ending the half with the Lakers up nine, 51-42.
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Kobe started the third with back-to-back three pointers, pushing the Lakers lead up to 13. Okaford answered with back-to-back field goals, still keeping a weary New Orleans in the game.
One person that the Lakers needed in the game: Andrew Bynum. Lakers Nation held their breath again when Bynum went down awkwardly, holding the braced knee, immediately making us think the worst. He quickly got back up once the trainer was out, relieving most, but having us remember how important he is to any chance of a Lakers threepeat.
The tension was shown with nine minutes remaining, as Derek Fisher was called for a technical foul for throwing an elbow while Marco Belinelli was called for a personal foul at the same time. The jeerers were silenced automatically, as Fisher immediately made a three pointer right after Paul made the technical free throw. Gasol had consecutive field goals, one even being a jump shot, reminding the Lakers that they do have a power forward in the lineup, although he’s been missing the past two games.
Back and forth baskets and fouls kept the game between eight to ten points throughout the middle of the quarter, until the “Beat LA” chants started.
The Lakers continued to threat the Hornet’s, but had still not run away with the game as the third quarter drew to a close. A Los Angeles time out with 5 minutes remaining slowed the game down a bit, as the Lakers lead was cut to only eight, 66-58. While the Lakers offense may not have been what they wanted, with 7 minutes gone, Chris Paul had only taken 1 shot in the third. Kobe Bryant then made his third three of the quarter, putting the lead back up to 11.
The Hornets Carl Landry drove to the basket, having Odom draw the foul, to give him the threepoint play, cutting LA’s lead once again. He followed up with an impressive dunk, but his excitement was cut short when Pondexter was called for a shooting foul against Lamar Odom, putting Odom at the line and both teams at the bench for a time out.
A strange amount of travels and turnovers closed out the quarter, as consecutive misses by both Barnes and Paul were diminished by a layup from veteran Derek Fisher, putting his point total up to seven.
Another turnover was called off a Gasol travel, and Chris Paul capitalized upon it with a threepointer to cut the lead even more, having the Lakers only up 5. Pau Gasol renewed his importance with 9.5 seconds remaining, when his back-to-back rebounds took him to the line, keeping the Lakers up 7.
Okaford and Landry stepped up for the Hornets in the third, keeping them in the game, but it still wasn’t enough to push them ahead of the two time defending champions, as the Lakers kept the lead, 75-68.
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Landry opened up the final quarter drawing a shooting foul, making both free throws. Gasol made his second three of the season, pushing the Lakers lead up to eight. A great fake by Chris Paul helped him draw the foul from Andrew Bynum, forcing him to the bench with four fouls. Steve Blake reminded us of what we were missing behind the arc when he was out with Chicken Pox, sinking his first basket of the game, and putting the Lakers FG percentage up to 50%.
Gasol’s size advantage gave him another easy offensive rebound, which he used to make another layup, followed by an outside jump-shot, forcing a New Orleans timeout. The jump-shot put the Spaniard’s total up to 17, double the 8 points that he had to his name both Game 1 and 2.
After a Hornets timeout, Jason Smith made a 16 point layup to bring them back into the game.
Then Kobe Bryant re entered the game for Shannon Brown, automatically drawing a foul, heading to the line to make both free throws. More fouls were made by New Orleans, allowing the Lakers to continue heading to the line and increase their lead up to 12.
As soon as Okafor made a 7-foot basket, the Lakers ran back down the court with Odom making an identical 7-foot jumper, giving Los Angeles their largest lead of the game at 14.
Another Odom jumped with 3:30 remaining diminished any hopes of a New Orleans comeback, as it pushed the Lakers to a 17-point lead. Ariza made a 22 point jumper, putting his tally up to a big 12. The only action the Hornets saw in the last few minutes was Landry’s multiple trips to the free throw line, which helped him push his personal point total up to 21 with a minute and a half remaining.
Kobe Bryant’s and one jumper with a minute remaining lifted the Lakers to 100 points, and giving him a total of 80 30-point postseason games in his career, five above Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Strong performances by Gasol, Bynum, Odom and Kobe gave the Lakers the dominant lead they needed to gain the advantage in the series, 2-1. The Lakers finished the game up on the Hornets, 100-86. The Hornets host the Lakers in Game 4 Sunday.
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