This wasn’t the Lakers first win of the series, but it was definitely their first win showing flashes of the championship dominance of the previous two seasons. After the Game 2 win, commenter J.D. Hastings said, “Teams that win ugly win titles.” It can also be said that those very same teams also win on the road. The Lakers were able to weather the early Hornets sting with their raucous crowd behind them and come out with a solid 100-86 victory in New Orleans.
In ways that we’ve seen before, Kobe came out of the gate aggressive early. His first two points were off of a short jump shot in the paint, and it seemed to start him off with a nice rhythm that he’d carry the rest of the way. His next basket was a 12-foot jumper that drew a foul from Chris Paul. He followed that with a nice two-handed jam and a circus layup over his right shoulder which drew a foul on Aaron Gray. Kobe’s offensive aggression was completely opposite of his Game 2 performance, where he dedicated himself to limiting the offense of Chris Paul. The rhythm he was able to establish early on with baskets close to, or at the rim really opened things up for him on the perimeter as the game progressed. Kobe knocked down four of seven three pointers, with two of them being wide open looks to start off the second half.
The Lakers bigs also opened things up for Kobe on the outside with stellar play in the middle. Andrew Bynum made his presence felt, especially in the first half. He finished the half with 13 points and nine rebounds, completely dominating the Hornets on the offensive glass. He was decisive with the ball, confident with his jump hook and patient when things weren’t instantly available. He passed well out of double teams and even found cutting teammates. In the second half it was Pau Gasol who stepped up, finally having his impact on the series show up in the box score with 17 points and 10 rebounds. One of the biggest differences I saw in Gasol’s game tonight was how much more Phil had him moving around. Instead of putting him in one-on-one situations and forcing him to bang bodies with Okafor/Gray/Landry, he was often on the move when he caught passes and was in a position get baskets on quick catch-and-shoot situations or easy layups. The easier buckets early in the game seemed to boost his confidence and we ended up actually seeing a somewhat physical Gasol in the fourth quarter. There was one play in particular where Gasol got the ball at the pinch post, lowered his shoulder and muscled his way through Emeka Okafor for two points.
Finally, the Laker role players stepped up huge. Ron Artest is quietly having a great series. He had his offense going in the first quarter, helping to quiet down that New Orleans crowd. He had a nice post move on Marco Belinelli that resulted in a layup and a nice baseline dunk that got him flexing for the New Orleans crowd. Lamar Odom had a very quiet nine rebounds to go along with his 13 points. The Killer B’s didn’t have great games, but they all contributed in some way. Steve Blake hit a timely three, Shannon Brown had one of his patented base line dunks (and no turnovers!), and Matt Barnes had a nice tip dunk over Jason Smith after a Bynum miss.
Overall, tonight was a solid performance for the Lakers. It’s hard to take anything away from a team that goes on the road and takes care of business in the post season. They were huge on the glass, got good performances from their best players and the roll players kept the lead with the starters on the bench. Pau Gasol had his best offensive night and Andrew Bynum is proving that he’s going to be a problem for the Hornets as this series progresses. I didn’t get into this much (or at all, actually), but the Lakers also played an absolutely fantastic defensive game (more on this in the future). Chris Paul had another very good outing, but the Lakers are figuring out ways to limit how much he’s able to control the game. It wasn’t a perfect night, but there isn’t really much to complain about. They’re back in control of the series with a 2-1 lead and will play Game 4 on Sunday.