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NBA Playoffs: Bynum, Lakers win an ugly one

Apr 21, 2011, 2:34 AM EDT

New Orleans Hornets v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Two Getty Images

It wasn’t pretty, but the Los Angeles Lakers were able to even up their series against the New Orleans Hornets with relative ease.

The Hornets were able to shock the Lakers in Game 1 because Los Angeles failed in two fundamental areas: they didn’t establish their big men on offense, and they didn’t contain Chris Paul on pick-and-rolls. On Wednesday, Phil Jackson showed why he has more rings as a head coach than he has fingers; he knows how to make adjustments.

Before the game, Jackson said that the Lakers defended “more than half” of the 70 screen-rolls the Hornets ran on Sunday incorrectly, which allowed Chris Paul to run amok. In Game 2, the Lakers were able to keep Paul in check by putting bigger defenders on him (Kobe Bryant started the game on Paul, and Ron Artest even guarded him for a few possessions), putting the quicker Steve Blake on him for a stretch, and trapping him effectively to make him give up the ball:

“They tried to shrink the floor on me,” Paul said after the game. “They didn’t want me to wiggle and dance with the ball as much. It worked for them to a certain extent.” Paul was indeed somewhat limited on Wednesday. He still recorded 20 points and 9 assists, but most of his shots were contested jumpers (six of his points came on buzzer-beating threes), and only two of his assists led to a dunk or a layup.

When the ball wasn’t in Paul’s hands, the Hornets weren’t able to generate anything resembling offense. Carl Landry tried to take the ball to the basket, but he was stifled time and time again by the hulking Laker frontline. Marco Belinelli couldn’t buy a jumper. Emeka Okafor was invisible on offense for the second straight game. Willie Green and Aaron Gray, who were both instrumental in New Orleans’ Game 1 win, turned back into pumpkins. Trevor Ariza was active and managed to hit shots, but the Hornets had almost no offensive cohesion whatsoever in Game 2.

When the Lakers had the ball, they showed tremendous discipline. Kobe Bryant finished the game with one of the worst box score lines of his career (11 points on 3-10 shooting, three rebounds, two assists), but he was more passive than ineffective. Bryant didn’t look for his own shot until late in the fourth quarter, when the game had essentially already been decided.

Instead of  having Kobe look to shoot or drive to the basket, the Lakers stayed in their triangle offense all game long, and tossed the ball into the post on nearly every possession and playing their offense from there. Pau Gasol, who was the goat after Game 1, didn’t do much better in Game 2. Even though the Staples Center crowd practically begged Gasol to be aggressive every time he caught the ball, Gasol wasn’t able to get into any kind of a groove. He struggled to get position, he never got his defender off-balance, his shooting touch was off, and he ended up shooting 2-10 from the field with one assist and three turnovers.

The Lakers’ first and second offensive options didn’t do much on Wednesday, something that Phil Jackson attributed to the Hornets’ defensive strategy, saying that”Their philosophy is to take the two main scorers out of the mix and make the other people beat us.”

Fortunately for Jackson, the Lakers’ third and fourth offensive options stepped up in a major way. The Lakers fed Andrew Bynum in the post time and time again, and he was able to punish the Hornets. By not bringing doubles on Bynum very much, New Orleans dared the Lakers to beat them with Bynum as their primary offensive option, and that’s exactly what they did.He bullied his defender under the basket, showed great touch at the rim, and was even able to step out and hit a few mid-range jumpers. He finished the game with 17 points on only 11 shots, was just as much of a force defensively as he was offensively, and was almost certainly the single biggest reason for the Lakers’ success.

“We know that [Bynum] is the one that plays well against this team because of his size,” Phil Jackson said after the game. “He really carries things pretty well, so we’re confident in him having a good game…we think he can play at an even higher level than this.” That last sentence is a scary thought for Laker opponents, considering how good Bynum looked tonight and that the Lakers have won the last two championships with Bynum playing a much more limited role than he has this season.

Newly minted Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom was no slouch either, and poured in 16 points off the bench on a variety of mid-range jumpers and drives to the rim. With Matt Barnes making all four of his shots and Steve Blake and Shannon Brown providing some quality energy off the bench, the Lakers looked infinitely deeper than they did in Game 1.

What does this game mean for both teams? For the Lakers, it means that they can beat the Hornets as long as they stick to their fundamentals on both ends of the floor. The Hornets can’t stop the Lakers consistently if they continue to pound it inside, and the Lakers can stop the Hornets if they contain Chris Paul and force the other Hornets to make plays. For those reasons, the Lakers should feel very good about their chances in this series, even though they need to win in New Orleans to stave off elimination.

Even though the Lakers can generate a good amount of offense by simply pounding the Hornets inside, they haven’t been able to roll on all cylinders offensively against the Hornets. As Monty Williams said after the game “We held them to 87 points. If you told us ‘the Lakers are going to score 87 points against your defense, would you take that?’ If you asked me that question, I would say yes.”

The Hornets’ defense does give New Orleans a chance in this series if they figure out how to score. It might take three more superhero performances from Chris Paul, or it might take the Hornets figuring out some way to generate good offense when the ball isn’t in Paul’s hands. I’m not sure which one is more unlikely at this point, but the Hornets will definitely need to do one of those things to pull off a series upset.

  1. fouldwimmerlaik - Apr 21, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    I told you it was all part of the plan. I was glued to the TV for the whole game, except for once when I had to go upstairs and tell my mom I was out of Cheetos. But, I told you this was all part of Phil and Kobe’s master plan. The Hornets were suckered into a false sense of security and, BAM, Super Kobe and the Lakers win the next game. I am sure that the Lakers may throw the Hornets one more win just to seal the eventual Lakers victory in this series. Kobe and Phil are that much smarter than you mere mortals.

    • mornelithe - Apr 21, 2011 at 11:09 AM

      I find it highly, highly unlikely that any team, at this point in the season, purposefully makes the first round of the playoffs longer for themselves. Usually teams want this round over as quickly as possible so that they can rest up for the following more important rounds. It’s teams like the Celtics, tank the last leg of the season (when they’ve made the playoffs), so they’re as close to 100% as possible.

      Would seem counter-productive to ruin that by making the contest longer, plus, I didn’t really see anything last night that would award Kobe a ‘Super’ moniker.

      • lbcdeeznutz - Apr 21, 2011 at 3:40 PM

        He just gets that for his body of work.

    • passerby23 - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:20 PM

      Who’s kidding who? The Lakers had to slug this one out in a badly officiated game. The Hornets squandered a lot of opportunities to make the game a lot more competitive. No, the Lakers didn’t play great basketball but the Hornets played awful and were still hanging around. I think the Lakers win the next three games, but it’s not going to be an easy ride in New Orleans.

  2. omniusprime - Apr 21, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    Andrew Bynum showed last night why he’s one of the best centers in the NBA right now. Bynum will be key in helping the Repeat World Champion Lakers Threepeat this June. Lamar Odom showed why he deserves the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year award as he also came up big in helping the Laker’s bench to excel. Glad to see Steve Blake back as he can provide defense and assists. Looks like this series is over as the Lakers will win the next 3 to send the Hornets fishing!

  3. fouldwimmerlaik - Apr 21, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    I appreciate your take on the situation. But, and I mean this with all kindness and respect, you are part of the proof that the plan has worked PERFECTLY! This is exactly the reaction Phil and Kobe were anticipating when they chose to execute this scheme. You, as well as the Hornets and other fans, have lowered your expectations of Kobe and the Lakers. And they will bounce on that false confidence when e’er they please. You have fallen into the trap, but I do not mean that in a mocking way. It is a perfect plan, so you had no option but to fall for it.

    My Kobe Bryant Action Figure – Playoff Edition rests proudly in my hands!

    • mornelithe - Apr 21, 2011 at 12:11 PM

      No, I actually expect quite a bit from Kobe, because he’s shown that capacity time and time again. His stat line from last night, as I said, was far from Super, but that’s not indicative of his career, now is it?

      Equally so with the Laker’s themselves, do we honestly expect anything but great basketball when they play? And it’s usually a huge letdown when they don’t? Comes with the franchise, the group of players they present on the court, and the coaching staff.

      Beyond that, as I said, it’s a long season, and it’s ridiculous to think that Jackson & Co., would purposefully tank game 1, so as to ‘blindside’ the Hornets with skill in game 2. Seriously, I think there’s a bit of tape from the regular season to disprove such a tactic. Doing so only runs their players as much or more than the Hornets, which takes that much more out of the gas tank for the following rounds.

      • fouldwimmerlaik - Apr 21, 2011 at 12:48 PM

        Alas, again you are proving the genius of the plan. I do not mean this in any offensive manner, as you are merely just another victim of Phil and Kobe’s brilliance. But, by playing in a manner that you would not expect a team to play, they are defying conventional wisdom and lulling you and all others into a misconception that they are currently a less dangerous team. The mere fact that you do not believe they would be doing this proves how perfect the plan is. They will act as if they are playing subpar ball now. But then, they will turn it on when they please and annihilate all pretenders in their path. The gas in their tank is limitless.

        The thrill, my friend, is not in the conquest, but in the hunt. They are now purposefully masking the hunt more exciting on their own terms.

        Do not feel bad for you are not alone. Most others have been fooled by their ruse.

      • mornelithe - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:13 PM

        *shrug* I don’t honestly care, about either team. I live in Vermont and root for the Celtics, however, I’m not so blinded by sheer….wow, I really don’t know what it is you’re suffering from. Fact is, I watched the game last night, and they…won. So, how is that somehow sub-par, compared to letting the Hornet’s score 109 on them the previous game? No 1 person is going to carry the entire team through the playoffs this year, not with how deep some of these teams are. Howard’s 45 with the Magics loss, and Anthony’s 42 with the Knicks loss, Kobe having an abyssmal night and the Lakers win are proof of that. So Kobe having an awesome day, or Kobe having a bad day, shouldn’t be the straw that breaks the camels back.

        Fact is, in the playoffs, each game matters. You don’t just drop one and run your guys into the ground…when you’re the defending champions, to lull the competition into a sense of complacency. Nobody’s taking the Lakers lightly, only fools who’re watching from home do that. That having been said, respond, or don’t. This is my last reply, because I simply gain nothing from talking to you.

      • fouldwimmerlaik - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:38 PM

        Apparently, my first reply was not accepted by the moderators, though I did not post it with any offensive intentions. I will just say in this reply, which I pray makes it through moderation, that I respect your opinion and I appreciate good-natured debate on sports-related topics.

    • akismet-9bfac212a93c64c2c1abe56138b8286a - Apr 22, 2011 at 12:36 AM

      Dude, what could be even more preposterous than the Lakers throwing games? The idea about how this is all a plan to fool us, that’s what. If the Lakers are throwing games just because they have some insidious plan to toy around with their opponents, then we all might as well believe that the NBA is just as rigged as the WWE Either way, it sure makes for some good forum fodder.

  4. fouldwimmerlaik - Apr 21, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    And, so you know, I have put a cape on my Kobe Bryant Action Figure – Playoff Edition in honor of his “Super” persona.

    • andyhr17 - Apr 22, 2011 at 9:42 AM

      Wow, and people make fun of Celtics fans on this site?

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