In Darius’ Preview and Chat, he opened up with a discussion on how difficult it is to close out teams on the road in the playoffs, and brought up this comment from The Dude Abides:
The Lakers of the Pau Gasol era are 7-1 in road closeout games, including the last five in a row. The only loss was Game 6 of the 2009 2nd Round in Houston. Since then, they won Game 6 in Denver, Game 5 in Orlando, Game 6 in OKC, Game 4 in Utah, and Game 6 in Phoenix.
After tonight’s 98-80 victory, the Lakers can add the New Orleans Hornets to the list of teams that the Lakers effectively closed out on the road during the current Kobe/Pau administration. And much like the majority of the aforementioned games, the Lakers won tonight’s game on the strength of their defense. Only allowing 80 points to a Chris Paul led offense is fantastic, but it still doesn’t really tell the story of how dominant the Laker defense was tonight. With Paul, they consistently cut off his penetrating and passing lanes, kept all of the Hornets off of the offensive glass, and made them a collective team of jump shooters. Take a look at the Hornets’ shot chart and the number of mid-range jumpers that they were forced to take.
Without anyone knocking down shots for the Hornets, it became increasingly easier for the Lakers to defend Paul, who easily had his quietest game of the series with 10 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. The Lakers bigs did a great job of hedging high enough to prevent Paul from driving, but stayed far enough away so that Paul wouldn’t blow by them. The Lakers perimeter defenders did a great job of fighting over screens with enough speed so that that Pau and Bynum spent as little time as possible isolated on Chris Paul. Kobe mentioned that he looked tired in his post-game presser, and a lot of his fatigue might have come with the fact that Paul saw five different defenders during the course of the game. Fisher, Blake, Kobe, Artest, and Brown all spent at least a few possessions on Paul.
On the offensive end, the Lakers got great production from their big men. 48 points, 28 rebounds, eight assists, and four blocks from Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Bynum had a spectacular night on his own with 18 points and 12 rebounds, with eight of his rebounds coming on the offensive end. ‘Drew has been consistently knocking down a 15-footer, and his post game is looking more refined daily. He’s been playing as comfortable on the floor as we’ve seen him since early in the 2008 season before his knee injury. Pau’s jumper was falling as well, and he effectively attacked the rim when he had favorable matchups against Aaron Gray and DJ Mbenga. Lamar Odom might have had the quietest 14 points as a Laker. Save for a couple of swooping layups, it’s hard to remember many of his points.
On the perimeter, Kobe had a fantastic third quarter, scoring 13 of his 24 in that 12-minute stretch. His shot wasn’t falling at a high rate, so he compensated for his off shot by attacking the rim, finishing 10-for-10 from the free throw line. We also need to give some credit to Ron Artest, who might have only had four points, but he provided five rebounds, five assists, one steal and one of his signature bicep flexes after his steal on Chris Paul and the subsequent put back. Artest also had the assist to Kobe’s three in the third that moved the Lakers lead back up from seven to 10 points, and really took the crowd out of the game.
Overall, the Lakers played a fantastic game on both ends of the floor. They swarmed the Hornets on the defensive end and played inside-out on the offensive end. New Orleans played admirably. They were undersized, undermanned, and were underdogs in every respect, but they were scrappy enough to make this an interesting series. Chris Paul was outstanding and I was thoroughly impressed with rookie coach Monty Williams’ ability to game plan for a Phil Jackson led Lakers. They had a great season considering their injury issues and their expectations coming into the game. As far as the next round goes, Dallas is up on Portland by nine points close to midway through the third quarter. A Dallas win would end this series and move them forward to see the Lakers in the second round. A Portland win would send the series to a decisive seventh game. Either way, the Lakers’ next game will be this Monday.