It was a strange night at Staples Center for game two as all the usual suspects weren’t in attendance.
Jack Nicholson’s courtside seats were occupied by Cash Money rapper Birdman and Kobe Bryant’s offense was at home thinking about the next series. Instead of taking on his usual role as lead scorer for the Lakers, he decided to become a shutdown defender that he’s actually pretty good at.
Before the game last night, Bryant requested to cover Chris Paul. In their game one loss to the Hornets, Paul ran rampant on the basketball court with 33 points, 14 assists, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. LA had to make an adjustment to shut him down.
The Black Mamba played physically against CP3 by letting him know he was there with a constant elbow to his back. However, Paul did draw two very hard fouls from Bryant while attempting threes that he turned into six made free throws from the line. Those six combined with the other six points he collected from two buzzer beaters he hit from behind the arc to end both the second and third quarters made up 12 of his 20 points on the night. He only hit two other shots from the field. In other words, Bryant succeeded.
The only depth for the Hornets is in their guard core and that’s why it needed to be shut down. Paul gets needed rest from Jarrett Jack and Willie Green relieves Marco Belinelli. The four mentioned above went 11-32 from the floor and the frontcourt hand their hands full.
In game one, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum had a relatively quite game but that all changed last night. Phil Jackson had Bynum attacking the basket early and physically. Emeka Okafor collected two quick fouls in the opening minutes while trying to slow down the big guy and was benched for the rest of the opening quarter. Aaron Gray and even D.J. Mbenga were put in to slow him down but he was not going to be stopped.
The coverage on Bynum then allowed sixth man of the year Odom to do as he pleased on the court who came in for Pau Gasol instead of the younger center. Carl Landry is easily shutting down Gasol who has gone 4 for 19 from the floor in this series but couldn’t cover both Bynum and Odom when Okafor was out of the game.
Additionally, the triangle offense was clicking perfectly last night and New Orleans’ zone was never able to hold itself together. The triangle works best when two players are doing particularly well on a team. With both Odom and Bynum finding their stroke, it was easy to distract the zone and leave other players on the Lakers open. It’s one reason Shannon Brown and Ron Artest were able to hit those threes in the fourth quarter to help seal the game.
Now, the series is going to New Orleans and it really doesn’t look good for them. If LA beats you and Kobe only scores 11, something is wrong. Monty Williams needs to figure out how to slow down Bynum and prevent him from drawing so many fouls down low. The problem is that he doesn’t have many options with his big guys. It may come down to them having to let him do as he wishes and choosing to capitalize on other parts of the Lakers game.
The problem is that New Orleans just doesn’t score enough to outmatch whatever LA throws out in a given night. CP3 is going to have to do a lot more from the floor and that’s going to be hard when Bryant, Artest and Derek Fisher are all trying to throw him off. Trevor Ariza can score but he isn’t exactly going to take over for New Orleans. Not to mention he is also having to battle the several defenders that LA can throw at him.
The series says 1-1 but after last night and how the Hornets lost, it might as well be 3-0 going into the last game of the series. They are outmatched all over the court. Game one was a fluke and the real Lakers showed up in one of the scrappiest games so far this postseason. All Williams has is a prayer and all Jackson has is two All Stars, a sixth man of the year and a young man named Bynum. Game Over.