Blog Entry

NBA Playoffs Hornets-Lakers: perfectly upsetting

Posted on: April 17, 2011 7:08 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 3:10 am
The New Orleans Hornets delivered a stunning Game One defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers. How worried should LA be? Posted by Ben Golliver.


The New Orleans Hornets beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 109-100, in Game One of their first round playoff series, and coach Monty Williams couldn't have drawn it up any better. Everything he could have wanted to go right did go right, and even some things that no one could have expected fell in the Hornets' favor. The "Can lightning strike twice?" question hangs over this result like a thundercloud, but its worth cataloguing New Orleans' many triumphs before turning our attention to Game Two adjustments.

All-Star point guard Chris Paul, of course, leads any breakdown of this game. In the fourth quarter he was as unstoppable as he's been at any point in his career, scoring 17 points in the final quarter on a variety of jumpers, drawing fouls seemingly at will. You can't blame Lakers guard Derek Fisher too for the explosion, as he generally played textbook defense and made Paul work. The Lakers did switch a few high screen-and-rolls and Paul exploited mismatches with Lakers bigs -- particularly Pau Gasol -- to create space for jumpshots. But this was about an All-Star being locked all the way in, finishing with 33 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds, four steals and just two turnovers in 41 minutes, commanding New Orleans' offense with intelligence and using his quick hands and excellent instincts to full effect on defense. Los Angeles has made a habit of getting behind early and digging itself out late: Paul's two-way play made sure there would be no comeback.

It would be a mistake to call this a one-man show, though, as New Orleans' role players came up huge. Who could have expected the Hornets bench -- one of the weaker groups in the playoffs -- to combine for 39 points on an amazing 72% shooting from the field, led by a perfect 5-5 from reserve center Aaron Gray and 5-6 from guard Jarrett Jack. Every man on the Hornets bench finished with a positive +/- for the game, with Gray posting a whopping +25 in his 20 minutes. Will they play as well as a group again in this series? Probably not.

As big as those contributions was New Orleans' overall defensive effort, which can only be described as excellent. Trevor Ariza frustrated Kobe Bryant down the stretch, New Orleans' undersized bigs did an excellent job of managing Los Angeles' long frontline and the Hornets scored 17 points off of 13 Lakers turnovers, a critical difference-maker given that the Hornets turned the ball over just three times (!) the entire game. By comparison, New Orleans' season-low for turnovers in the regular season was five.

Again, everything went right for the Hornets. They dominated the possession game. Their bench badly outplayed LA's. Chris Paul won the match-up of superstars against Kobe Bryant (35 points, four rebounds, five assists, five turnovers). Improbably, both Carl Landry (17 points, five boards) and Aaron Gray (12 points) scored more than Pau Gasol (eight points, six boards).

That last sentence, more than any other reason, is why it's difficult to believe New Orleans' Game One stunner will be sustainable. The Hornets lost Gray in the game's final minute to a nasty ankle injury, and getting more from Gasol will be at the top of the list of Lakers adjustments. Gasol's face was cut and bloodied early in the game and he was an absolute non-factor down the stretch, attempting just two shots in the fourth quarter (one was a lay-up with the game out of reach). Without Gray, who looked like New Orleans' most capable one-on-one post defender aside from Emeka Okafor, the Hornets' frontline will be stretched to an even greater degree, with Carl Landry, D.J. Mbenga and Jason Smith called into greater service. If that trio winds up getting the best of Gasol over a seven-game series, he might need to consider entering the Witness Protection Program.

The Lakers can also get more from center Andrew Bynum, who scored easily around the basket, playing over the top of New Orleans after Okafor got into some early foul trouble. Bynum finished with a respectable 13 points and nine rebounds and the Lakers would do well to pound it into him more than they did on Sunday. Mbenga resorted to desperation hard fouls on Bynum multiple times and there's no reason the Lakers shouldn't be parading to the free throw line throughout the rest of this series.

Given how many breaks went New Orleans' way, it's not panic time yet for the Lakers. They'll need to re-think their defense on Paul, paying him extra attention and perhaps using Kobe Bryant to defend him more often. They'll certainly need to turn to Gasol more often and he'll need to show up. More than anything, Los Angeles simply needs to realize they likely took New Orleans' best punch. The same match-up advantages that made them prohibitive favorites entering the series are still there. And, pending Gray's availability, could be even more pronounced. 

Internal motivation remains the biggest issue for the Lakers, who played flat through stretches, particularly in the first half, on Sunday. New Orleans delivered a wake-up call to a team that's lacked focus for a few weeks now. LA needs to respond in Game Two. And, given their talent advantages and enhanced motivation following the loss, it would be shocking if they didn't.

Since: Jun 1, 2009
Posted on: April 18, 2011 2:35 pm

NBA Playoffs Hornets-Lakers: perfectly upsetting

Dude its just one game and you are already off the Wagon they might pay later on in the playoffs if they don't striaghten up but I don't think they are going to lose no New Orleans but we shall see.

Since: Apr 18, 2011
Posted on: April 18, 2011 3:32 am

NBA Playoffs Hornets-Lakers: perfectly upsetting

RFM, Ben qualified his statement with the fact that the Hornets shot poorly from the line.  As for the fact that they made only 4 threes, that is not surprising since they are not known for their prowess behind the arc.   And Okafor is certainly no stranger to foul trouble, especially against times with good bigs.  His 22 minutes is less, but not a lot less, than he would typically play against the Lakers.

The Lakers big men played terribly today.  Part of that was due to Okafor's pounding on them.  But that is also why Okafor was in early foul trouble.  But even Okafor's defense does not explain Gasol's no-show.  And Odom, the likely 6th man of the year, didn't really show up either.  And Bynum didn't start to play until the game was essentially over.

And nobody got the best of Kobe Bryant.  His line, 34, 5 and 5 was marred only by his 5 turnovers.  If the Hornets play another game in the playoffs, or most seasons for that matter, with only three turnovers then they'll win a lot more games.  If they got the best of Kobe today then I pity the Hornets when Kobe has a good day and the rest of his team comes to play. 

Since: Apr 18, 2011
Posted on: April 18, 2011 3:18 am

NBA Playoffs Hornets-Lakers: perfectly upsetting

RFM, you are correct that the Hornet were bad from the line but Ben qualified his statement with that fact.  As for Okafor, he is prone to foul problems and 22 minutes is less, but not a lot less, than you can expect from him against a team with good big men.  4 3's is not great but the Hornets are not known for their prowess in shooting from behind the arc. 

Great win for the Hornets but it had nothing to do with them getting the best of Kobe Bryant who had a very nice game.  If Gasol had played even a average game for him the game would have been neck and neck.  Odom, the likely 6th man of the year, had a terrible game as well. 

I'm a Lakers fan and I'm frustrated with the loss but I am not overly concerned with the Lakers' chances to win this series.  If the Hornets can continue to play with only 3 turnovers per game I'll be more concerned.  But I expect the Lakers' big men to play much better as the series goes on.  And if the Hornets got the best of Kobe today they'd better look out because if a bad game from him is 34, 5 and 5 the Hornets won't know what hit them when he has a good game and the rest of Kobe's team comes to play.

Since: Dec 5, 2006
Posted on: April 18, 2011 12:39 am

NBA Playoffs Hornets-Lakers: perfectly upsetting

Actually, Ben it has already been a shocking weekend with the Spurs, Lakers, and Magic all beaten by higher seeds. The Chris Paul show will ne on everyone's DVR for game 2. The Lakers played about the same as they have been playing all month. Even without Aaron Gray the Hornets have an opportunity to punch a really big hole in the Lakers 2011 mystique. But the Lakers believe they can win equally in New Orleans as LA. Game 2 might turn out the be the turning point to the end of the 4th three-peat for PJ.

Big ups to Trevor Ariza. Of course he was part of the Lakers championship team three years ago and has likely spent many hours in practice guarding Kobe as well as game time the past two years. The value of a defensive stopper has been proven again and again (bet Portland wishes they had a Dirk stopper!)

Pau Gasol might still be uniquely talented as a PF. But he has faded in the past against physical play. You assume he will be featured in game 2. But if he is and does not respond Kobe is left on an island. This series was the one everyone in the media was certain of for LA. Seems the media might occasionally get it wrong.

Since: Feb 8, 2011
Posted on: April 18, 2011 12:32 am

NBA Playoffs Hornets-Lakers: perfectly upsetting

Paul will prolly have zero points in game two, just like a few weeks ago. 

Since: Apr 17, 2011
Posted on: April 17, 2011 10:58 pm

NBA Playoffs Hornets-Lakers: perfectly upsetting

Laughingmy my my...who expected that to happen to the 2 time defending champs...looks like that switch that they could flip on in the playoffs blew a fuse...

Since: Apr 28, 2010
Posted on: April 17, 2011 9:36 pm

NBA Playoffs Hornets-Lakers: perfectly upsetting

younger, faster, better than Kobe.

Hehe. Gotta love some anti-Bryant fans. Good win for Hornets.  L.A. in 6 if I was putting a sawbuck on it.

Since: Sep 23, 2008
Posted on: April 17, 2011 9:07 pm

NBA Playoffs Hornets-Lakers: perfectly upsetting

I can totally see the Paul and the Hornets winning this series. Paul has taken control and can easily keep it up, younger, faster, better than Kobe.

Since: Sep 18, 2007
Posted on: April 17, 2011 8:20 pm

NBA Playoffs Hornets-Lakers: perfectly upsetting

Moldaner, while I agree totally with you about them not playing the best they can plan. I also have to admit that the Lakers should have had a sweep. Hope the Hornets are in their head now. Unfortunately, the Lakers are a superior team and while Paul is as good as any Laker, the rest of the team is suspect. I fullt expect the Lakers to win the rest of the games. I dont think it was a fluke they won but if the Lakers are motivated they should destroy this team. And I hate the Lakers.

Since: Mar 15, 2011
Posted on: April 17, 2011 7:58 pm

LA in 5

this loss to the hornets was a fluke.  The lakers were just flat and overconfident.  Mark this down--the lakers will win this game in 5. 

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or