The Lakers and Hornets took the court tonight in a crucial Game 4 match-up. The implications that tonight’s game carried were certainly extreme. If Los Angeles won they would take a 3-1 series lead heading back to Staples Center with a chance to eliminate the Hornets on their home court. If New Orleans won they would tie the series at 2-2, assuring at least two more games before either team could advance.
After an impressive win in Game 3 the Lakers appeared to have regained their composure following a stunning loss in Game 1. A vintage performance from Kobe Bryant coupled with a strong first half from young Andrew Bynum propelled the Lakers to a 100-86 victory. Los Angeles also saw the resurgence of Pau Gasol, who had been virtually nonexistent in the first two games of the series. Gasol picked up his game down the stretch to help seal the game for the Lakers.
Heading into tonight’s Game 4 the Lakers were looking to win their third straight game and push New Orleans to the brink of elimination. The Hornets wanted to even the series at two. Only one team would be successful.
The game began with the Lakers utilizing their size advantage. When the Lakers defeated the Hornets during the regular season they were taking advantage of their size. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum picked up early offensive rebounds that allowed the team to get second chance opportunities. Another early bright spot for Los Angeles was the play of Ron Artest. The player who is generally known for his defense scored nine early points for the Lakers and helped pick apart the New Orleans defense.
New Orleans managed to hang in with the Lakers in the first quarter in large part due to former Laker Trevor Ariza, who scored 12 early points as well. Despite a rather mundane performance from Chris Paul, the Hornets found themselves down only three points at the end of the quarter. New Orleans erased an early nine point deficit to do so, and found themselves trailing 25-22 at the end of the first.
The Lakers and Hornets followed the same script in the second quarter that was featured in the first. Trevor Ariza and Ron Artest continued to impress, and both were offensive sparks throughout the entire first half. This was beneficial for both squads, as each team’s superstar (Bryant/Paul) were finding it very difficult to get things going offensively. As the quarter progressed the Lakers began to go away from what had built their lead early in the game. Instead of attacking the paint and utilizing their bigs they settled for outside shots early in the shot clock.
New Orleans took advantage of poor Los Angeles execution and managed to claim the lead late in the half. With the season essentially on the line for New Orleans, it was no surprise that they weren’t going to roll over and let the Lakers leave with an easy victory. Despite low scoring numbers from Paul, the Hornets followed his lead and used efficient execution and good ball movement to attack the Lakers defense.
As the half approached the Hornets finally managed to steal the lead back from Los Angeles. The play between Bryant and Paul became especially chippy, as words were exchanged and a more physical style of basketball presented itself. It culminated in a Chris Paul technical foul, but Bryant was unable to connect on the free throw. Bryant remained scoreless for the entire first half for the first time in a playoff game since the 2004 Western Conference Finals against the Minnesota Timberwolves. At halftime the Hornets were leading the Lakers 49-45.
To no surprise the second half quickly featured Kobe Bryant getting on the scoreboard. After a scoreless first half Bryant scored quickly and often in the third, getting himself to double digits halfway through the quarter. New Orleans did a good job of withstanding the Lakers on offense though, and kept their lead for the majority of the quarter. Paul managed to confuse the Los Angeles defense, which resulted in switches that left Bynum trying to guard the talented point guard on defense. This match-up was utilized beautifully from the Hornets in Game 1, and was one of the main reasons New Orleans was able to get the win in Los Angeles.
Despite the improved play from Bryant the third quarter belonged to Paul. The Hornets’ point guard secured a triple double with just under two minutes left in the quarter, and torched the Lakers in every aspect of the game. Los Angeles briefly tied the game on a Pau Gasol free throw but New Orleans retook it shortly thereafter. Heading into the fourth the Hornets lead was slim, 69-67.
New Orleans opened the fourth with a bang, and Chris Paul continued to punish the Lakers. The play on the court began to resemble Game 1 more and more as the Hornets built their lead to seven halfway through the quarter. The lack of performance from the Lakers bench was glaring, and killed Los Angeles in the quarter.
With no other options Phil Jackson put his starters back into the game looking to regain control for the Lakers. A corner three from Steve Blake and a floater from Bryant pulled Los Angeles back within four, but the problems for the Lakers continued to be defensive. They didn’t have an answer for Chris Paul, and he sliced through their defense like a Japanese knife.
Much like Game 1 the Lakers continued to pull within a single possession. It seemed that the Hornets always had an answer, and more often than not that answer was Chris Paul. There are only so many ways to declare how great he performed, but Paul controlled the game completely. Each New Orleans possession had his fingerprints all over it, and it took near-perfect defense just to force a tough shot. While the Los Angeles defense wasn’t great, Chris Paul’s offense was.
As time began to run out the Lakers had multiple chances to tie the Hornets but couldn’t connect. Open shots from Fisher, Artest and even Bryant failed to fall as New Orleans clung to their lead. In the end the Lakers were never able to overcome the Hornets. Los Angeles fell short time and again and it cost them in the end. Too many missed shots and mistakes cost them in the end, and allowed the Hornets to win the game and tie the series. Even a furious Laker run at the end fell just short. The final dagger ended up being a Jarrett Jack fadeaway that went through right as the shot clock expired. Los Angeles played the free throw game at the end but just didn’t have enough time to overcome the Hornets. In the end the Hornets defeated the Lakers 93-88 to tie the series at two.
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