An Injured Mamba Still Has Venom; Lakers Take Series Lead 3-2

The advisement to get an MRI or x–ray is something no one wants to face in his or her lifetime, especially as a professional athlete. Whether you’re playing pick up games at the YMCA or in the first round of the NBA playoffs, the thought of an injury is hard to come to terms with. With this said, when looking at most players they will accept the injury; take a seat on the bench and cheer on their team, hoping for the best.

Kobe Bryant isn’t that kind of player.

The five-time NBA champion sprained his left ankle in the closing minutes of Game 4 against the Hornets Sunday, forcing Lakers Nation to cross their fingers yet again. In the days leading up to Game 5, Kobe has been receiving moderate care, including icing, electrostimulation and massage. He refused to get either an MRI or a x-ray, much to the dismay of the Lakers front office.

He headed into Staples Center Tuesday as a game time decision, having many fans on edge as to what the outcome of the game will be. But if we take anything in Kobe’s history into account, a pesky sprained ankle won’t hurt the Black Mamba, but only make him stronger. Playoffs last season brought about ankle, knee, and finger injuries, but we all remember what happened in the Finals against the Celtics.

Chris Paul and his Hornets went into the game Tuesday night believing an injured Bryant could be just what they needed to take the lead in the first round series. Paul, coming off of a 27-point performance Sunday night, praised New Orleans’ Game 4 efforts, especially ex-Laker Trevor Ariza’s. Ariza dropped 16 of his 19 points in the first half, a total of 24 minutes where Kobe Bryant left empty handed.

If Los Angeles continues to depend on, a now injured, Kobe to do all of the hard work, their season may be ending sooner than expected. While Ron Artest completely stepped his game up on both sides of the ball Sunday, the lack of production from Odom and the remainder of the bench is a silent killer. The Lakers big men are playing like they’ve never gotten a rebound in their career, and the Hornets’ points in the paint quadrupled Los Angeles’ Game 4. Phil Jackson told media he wanted his team to “play desperate” as they headed into Game 5 with the series tied 2-2. I believe all Lakers fans turned on their television sets Tuesday night feeling quite desperate.

First Quarter

The Lakers opened up the game on top, with two baskets being dropped by the big men, Bynum and Gasol. As soon as the Lakers had the lead, the energetic Hornets quickly responded with a jumper by Belinelli and five points by Ariza. A few “swings” by the Lakers on the Hornets brought about a time out, as Belinelli received a bloody nose and Landry lost a contact, infuriating Monty Williams early in the game. Derek Fisher had his first shot to go, a long distance three to tie the game with nine minutes remaining.

Encouraging signs were shown by the Lakers as another shot beyond the fell by Artest, and Kobe was able to initiate a turnover and assist. Pau Gasol was also able to score on one end, and immediately take the charge on the other end of the court, helping the Lakers take a three point lead halfway through the quarter. The Hornets had a 7-7 start, as their undersized team was able to get everything they put up to fall right back down. Trevor Ariza, despite receiving two quick fouls, set the pace for the Hornets in the opening quarter.

Kobe made his first point of the game off of a free throw, while he was still being double teamed despite his left ankle sprain. Lamar entered the game continuing to be a little off, missing his first two shots, enabling New Orleans to score on the other side of the court. The lack of rebounds by Los Angeles, as well, pushed the Hornets slightly ahead.

A great start from both teams gave the audience a neck and neck game in the opening few minutes, but constant success from the Hornets beyond the arc enabled them to take the lead at the end of the quarter, 32-23.

Second Quarter

Lamar Odom came off a disappointing 1-7 Game 4 performance by opening the quarter with a nice layup, followed by a deep three from Shannon Brown. Turnover number seven for the Hornets continued to frustrate Monty Williams from the bench, while a relaxed Jackson showed no signs of irritation from the Lakers 6.

Shannon Brown became very active and assertive at both ends of the floor, coming off the bench 4-4 in the first few minutes.

He gave the Lakers the spark they needed, along with the rest of the bench, as the camera continued to pan to a distressed Kobe Bryant on the sidelines. Pau, Odom, Blake, Barnes and Brown pushed to Lakers back on top, after four un-scoreless minutes for the Hornets. That’s when Kobe re-entered the game. He looked to be moving easily on the floor, even without the basketball, making his first basket of the game with nearly 7 minutes to go in the second.

A rapid amount of offensive fouls by the Hornets continued to put the ball in the Lakers hands, who finally started taking the advantage of second chance opportunities. The Lakers had seven offensive rebounds halfway through the second quarter, proving that their size was finally working for them. It still seemed like Odom and Gasol were reluctant to get points in the paint, which could end up being the deciding factor in not only this series, but also in the rest of the NBA playoffs.

Pau Gasol’s aggressiveness he had in the season was still absent, but he looked to be improving from Game 1.

Ariza continued to be the Hornets star player, making a three point play off of a Kobe Bryant foul with three minutes remaining.

That’s when the game changed. Kobe Bryant sailed down the court, slamming home a highlight reel dunk to get the crowd on their feet. It was followed by another Kobe layup, and then a Derek Fisher layup, putting the Lakers on a 6-0 run to take the lead 46-44. Chris Paul’s trip to the line enabled the Hornets to tie the game at the two minute mark, but that’s not what Kobe wanted. He sank another jumped, followed by an Andrew Bynum dunk to take the lead up to four.

A triple by Chris Paul buffered his total up to 9, followed up on the other side of the court by a Derek Fisher layup, who was playing as if he had fresh young legs. Another three by Paul kept the Hornets nipping at the Lakers heels, until Kobe Bryant drove through the paint to take Los Angeles’ lead up to three to end the half, 54-51.

Third Quarter

Derek Fisher opened up the half with his second three point shot of the night, a 26 footer pushing the Lakers lead up to 6. Andrew Bynum with 12 points and six rebounds continued to be dominant in the paint on the offensive end of the court, but the defensive side seemed too relaxed within the first few minutes. Okafor put the Hornets back into the game with a jumper, which was answered by an Artest jump-shot on the opposite end to silence the New Orleans bench.

Continued ball movement, well executed shot attempts and the rebirth of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum kept the lead with the Lakers throughout the quarter, as another Kobe highlight dunk sparked the energy in Staples Center once again. Impressive offense finally brought impressive defense, with Bynum blocks and Hornets forced turnovers becoming a redundant sighting.

Belinelli dropped back to back shots halfway through the quarter for New Orleans, putting the Lakers lead down to five. The Lakers continued to play with energy that they haven’t been showing throughout the past few weeks, with more and more Ron Artest baskets and Kobe Bryant attacks pushing the Hornets farther and farther away from a 3-2 series lead.

Lamar Odom added to the collection of Lakers dunks on the Hornets “big men” with a nice finish over two big defenders. Pau Gasol performed a nice hook shot over Okafor, with Okafor drawing his second foul of the game, bringing his point total up to 16 and finally proving himself to everyone who had been doubting him throughout the beginning of the playoffs.

Ariza put up another basket bringing his total up to 22, putting the Hornets only down by five with barely two minutes remaining in the third. The Los Angeles native was single-handedly putting New Orleans back into the game. There was an exchange of words between Brown and Landry, resulting in a Brown technical due to a thrown elbow towards Willie Green. Shannon Brown was lucky to not have a harsher penalty for the elbow, but the game continued.

While Belinelli, Ariza and Paul had big performances in the first three quarters, the collective amount of turnovers and fouls by the Hornets kept the ball in the hands of the Lakers way too much for them to handle. New Orleans continued to let their shot clock run out, handing the Lakers a numerous amount of points within the third. To top it all off, the Lakers lead the Hornets in second chance points, 16-0.

Derek Fisher headed to the line in the closing 30 seconds of the quarter, putting up the first and missing the second, enabling Shannon Brown to get an aggressive offensive rebound to keep the ball in the Lakers hands as the quarter ended. Unable to capitalize, the quarter ended with the Lakers on top, 79-72.

Fourth Quarter

The Lakers continued to draw fouls and punish New Orleans for their turnovers into the fourth. The Hornets had 17 turnovers with 10 minutes left in the game, a death sentence for any team facing the Lakers. Lamar Odom produced another beautiful shot, this one from beyond the arc, bringing the Lakers lead up to 13. Back to back Barnes offensive rebounds kept the ball with Los Angeles, as well, giving the Hornets no chance.

The Hornets had a weak 20 points in the paint compared to L.A.’s 42 in the game, a complete turn around from Game 4. On top of all of the stats and errors the Hornets were making, they just seemed incapable of making a basket. They had three turnovers and were 1-5 shooting in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. In the past four games of the series, when the Hornets lacked in turnovers, they won the games.

With all the Hornets errors, the Lakers continued to benefit and play well. They had multiple rebounds and shot attempts, sinking any opportunity they got, including a Steve Blake three pointer halfway through the quarter, bringing the game to a 92-76 Lakers lead.

Chris Paul refused to back down, making another jumper off a nice pair of crossovers. Unfortunately for him, the jumper counts as two points with or without the nice moves, and the Lakers continued to hold the lead as the game came to a close. Belinelli continued to show his worth to the Hornets, sinking another teardrop basket, proving that New Orleans didn’t plan on giving up any time soon.

In regards to Kobe Bryant leaving New Orleans Arena Sunday on crutches, Game 5 showed no signs of an injury. He lead the Lakers with 19 points, while all five of L.A.’s starters had double digits. Throughout the game, he continued to sink shots and make impressive plays, which ended up being much needed in Tuesday’s victory over the Hornets, 106-90.

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