The Los Angeles Lakers came into tonight’s game trailing the round one series 0-1, and they were looking to avoid their first 0-2 hole since the 2008 NBA Finals. The Lakers were embarrassed in their last outing versus the New Orleans Hornets, and many people were shocked with the Lakers’ lack of focus in Game 1. The Lakers could have traveled to New Orleans tied at 1-1 with a win, but a loss would have put them in unfamiliar position.
Unlike Game 1 where the Lakers did not often pass the ball to their big men down low, the team was making a more of an effort to feed the ball in the paint. The Lakers’ front-court got a break when Hornets’ center Emeka Okafor had to leave the game due to two foul, and this allowed Bynum and Gasol to dominate the paint. Five of the Lakers’ first six shots were attempted in the paint, and the team’s two seven footers were demanding the ball. Nevertheless, the Lakers were not playing their best on the defensive end and most of the energy was being used trying to find shots. At the 7:00 mark of the second quarter, the Lakers held a mere one point lead, 11-10.
The team was trying to get its big men more involved, but in the process players like Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest were ostracized from the offense. In addition, the Lakers had yet to find an answer for Chris Paul, who was able to break down the defense and find open shots for himself and his teammates. And as the quarter progressed, the Lakers’ offense became stagnant and the players were unable to knock down open shots. Derek Fisher had five good, open looks from the field but he only hit one shot. With the Lakers’ deep shot attempts, the Hornets were able to run in transition and catch the Lakers’ off-guard.
Kobe Bryant took his first shot attempt at the 4:28 mark of the second quarter, and at one point of the quarter the Lakers went four minutes without making a field goal. However, Phil Jackson inserted his reserves late in the quarter and they provided the team with a boost of energy. Although the Lakers were out-played by the Hornets for the majority of the game, they closed the period on a high note and headed to the bench tied at 23.
The Lakers’ bench continued their stellar play early in the fourth quarter, and their energy sparked the team and the crowd. The game took on a more up-tempo style of play, and the Lakers’ young players thrived in the transition. However, the Hornets’ role players also galvanized their team with their effort and intensity. Both teams exchanged baskets in the opening stages of the second period and at the 8:13 mark, the Lakers and Hornets were tied at 29.
After Okafor was inserted back into the game, the Lakers began to feed the ball inside to Andrew Bynum in an effort to take advantage of the mismatch. The already undersized Okafor has tentative when defending Bynum, as he had already committed two fouls earlier in the game. With Bynum dominating the paint with his power and offensive prowess, the Lakers were able to open up a 35-31 lead with 5:43 left after a 6-0 run.
Once the Lakers starters were subbed back into the game, they made it a priority to attack the less talented Hornets team. The Lakers amped up their defensive intensity and forced New Orleans to take tough, contest jump-shots. Momentum had shifted Los Angeles’ way, and the Lakers went on a 12-2 run to take a 45-33 lead with 2:11 left in the period.
The Lakers closed out the half on a high note, and they opened up a 47-41 lead heading into the locker-room. The team shot 53% from the field and Andrew Bynum led the way with 12 points and four rebounds. Aside from his let-down the end of the half, Kobe Bryant’s defense on Chris Paul was impeccable. Paul had only nine points, and he could not find a groove on the offensive end.
The Lakers opened up a double-digit lead early in the third quarter and it seemed as though they would pull away from the Hornets. However, the Lakers’ big men began to take ill-advised shots and they were constantly committing foolish offensive fouls. As the quarter progressed, both teams began to struggle offensively and tempers were starting to rise. Several Lakers and Hornets players got tangled up and it was obvious that there was no love between the squads.
Although the Lakers’ bigs were dominant in the first half, their third quarter blunders allowed New Orleans to climb back into the game. The Hornets were out-hustling the Lakers and they were first to rebounds and loose ball; New Orleans battled its way back and cut the lead to two, 51-49 with 5:30 left in the quarter.
Just like his performance in the first half, Lamar Odom provided immediate energy and offense of the Lakers’ bench in the third quarter. The starters were struggling miserably, but Odom’s offensive prowess allowed the Lakers to counter the Hornets’ run. After allowing New Orleans to cut the lead to two, the Lakers opened up a 61-49 lead under the leadership and stellar play of Odom.
Heading into the final 12 minutes of regulation, the Hornets cuts the Lakers lead to seven after Chris hit a three at the buzzer. Despite the fact that the Lakers struggled offensively for the majority of the quarter, they still held a 63-56 advantage over their opponent.
The Lakers’ bench started the fourth quarter and their great play allowed the starters to preserve their energy for the final stretch of the game. Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom were the catalysts for the Lakers’ run in the early goings of the fourth, and the rest of the team feed off their energy. After a Shannon Brown three at the 7:59 mark of the fourth, the Lakers opened up a 72-59 lead.
The Lakers continued to find offensive success and they were attacking the paint to get either easy shot attempts or an opportunity to go to the free throw line. The Lakers’ front-court became more assertive, and Gasol finally forced his will against the Hornets’ small centers. Although the Hornets made a diminutive run late in the fourth quarter, the Lakers held off the bees and took Game 2, 87-78. After a dismal performance in the opening game, the Lakers had a solid outing and tied the series at one.
The Lakers shot 45% from the field, while holding New Orleans to only 39% shooting. Andrew Bynum led the way for the Lakers with 17 points and 11 rebounds, followed by Lamar Odom with 16 points. As for Kobe Bryant, who had 11 points, he struggled shooting from the field for the first three quarters, but his surge in the fourth helped propel the Lakers to victory.
The series is now 1-1, and Game 3 will be held Friday night at 6:30 P.M. PST on ESPN.