I'm not completely sure where to even begin in discussing everything that transpired in Los Angeles tonight. In one of the most eventful games of the season, New Orleans (32-21) dropped a heartbreaking game in overtime to the league-leading Lakers (45-10).
For most of the night, it looked like the Lakers would prevail by a relatively comfortable margin. Los Angeles, which has only lost four games at Staples Center, took a 13-point lead into the fourth quarter and seemed to be on cruise control.
Instead of going quietly, however, New Orleans put together a huge final stanza - sparked by clutch shooting from James Posey and Rasual Butler - and went up by three late in regulation. After a Chris Paul steal with under 24 seconds left, the Hornets had a 4-on-1 fast break, with a clear opportunity to virtually put the Lakers away, but Paul barrelled into Derek Fisher, drawing an offensive foul. Fisher then forced overtime with a three-pointer. It was a rare critical mistake by Paul, who tapped his chest in a "my bad"-type gesture. Since the shot clock was off at the time of Paul's steal, at worst New Orleans could've forced L.A. to foul, but the charge gave the ball back to the Lakers (Byron Scott said after the game that when he saw Paul get the steal, he began yelling "no shot!" but Scott didn't think his players could hear him among the din at Staples).
OT was just as chaotic as regulation: the Lakers grabbed a six-point lead after Kobe Bryant's two free throws with less than two minutes to go (Bryant went to the line after Paul fouled out on a play in which ESPN's crew believed Bryant shoved Paul in order to grab a loose ball). Without CP3, however, New Orleans quickly cut it back to a one-point margin. Unfortunately for the Hornets, Bryant converted a conventional three-point play on the next possession to put the Lakers back in front by four.
Ultimately, Los Angeles' foul shooting in OT allowed the hosts to escape. The Lakers made all 11 of their attempts in the extra period.
Moving on to some of the other noteworthy developments from a Hornets perspective:
This was a great performance from Butler, who probably made more clutch shots than he has all season, which is saying something because he had an excellent stretch from the perimeter in November during fourth quarters. Butler was 6-for-8 on treys and allowed the Hornets to scratch back into the mix on several occasions.
Another example of why Posey cannot be measured by stats or downgraded when he goes through a stretch of poor shooting. Tonight he was the Posey of postseasons past, draining big shots, scrapping for defensive boards against bigger opponents and putting his body in harms way to draw Lakers charges. As weve written here plenty of times before, the man has two rings and a staggering amount of experience in big games. It shouldnt have been a surprise that he came up with such a quality outing against the Lakers.
Tough break for Hilton Armstrong, who received plaudits from Jeff Van Gundy for his aggressive and effective first-half play tonight. Armstrong compiled eight points and six rebounds in 16 minutes of action, but sat out the bulk of the second half after suffering back spasms.
The Hornets were getting plenty of open shots in the early going but struggled to make them. Peja Stojakovic finished 2-for-11 on the game after missing his initial eight tries. Despite his poor night, the Lakers still closely guarded him in the OT session, fearing his proven ability to shoot from long distance.
Overall it was a defeat, but a very encouraging one at that. New Orleans looked a lot more like a contending club than it has in recent weeks, while still playing without its starting center.
"We had our chances, but we didn't get it done," Scott said of the narrow defeat, before referring to the lead that got away late in regulation. "There is no doubt that we should've won this game."
HORNETS POSTGAME QUOTES
On his teams decision-making in the late 4th quarter:
We tried to get to the basket a little bit more, but he (Chris Paul) didnt. I wasnt happy with the fact that with 22 seconds left we got the steal, the first thing I did was look up at the clock and start yelling no shot but obviously with the crowd yelling and screaming he went down to get an offensive call. At that point we were up 3 so we get the foul and send couple of our best free throw shooters, Chris David or Peja. There was a good possibility to be up 5 with 14 seconds left in the game. We just made some mistakes. The last thing I said in the huddle was dont give up open 3s. 2s cant beat us but we gave a 3 to Fisher. Bottom line we gave them a win.
On the Lakers getting to the line towards the end of the game:
I thought they just made a great effort to try to put their heads down and get to the rim. We just didnt do a great job containing the dribblers. The other thing is that we had 8 offensive rebounds in the first half and we didnt attack the basket in the 2nd and didnt get any. Bottom line we had our chances and we shouldve won the game theres no doubt about it. We just gave it to them.
On playing a tough Utah Jazz team after losing to the Lakers:
We have to put it in the past and forget about it. We have to come out and be ready to play tomorrow. Maybe this will make us a little bit angry because we just gave up a game but well come out harder tomorrow night.
On tonights game:
They just did a good job they put a lot of pressure on us. It goes that way some nights I dont think we played bad defense tonight. You know they were home, they got the crowd into it, and sometimes the calls just go their way. They let us play on some possessions, and in the other possessions those guys did a great job at cutting hard to the basket, you know getting us in a bad way where we had to get a little physical.
On upcoming Utah game tomorrow:
We havent had much success up there, but we are going to come out, we are going to play hard, and leave it on the floor we know that we havent won up there in awhile, we are looking forward to taking that challenge tomorrow so well give a great effort and try to win a game
On last play of regulation:
They loaded up that side I talked to D West about it, I probably should have took it to the middle of the court and isolated it you know we really didnt want to go ball screen because they would have trapped. Most times in that situation we would get a bucket, I missed the shot.
On not calling a timeout prior to the last possession of regulation:
We dont want to call a time out we knew what we wanted to do. Like I said I missed the shot and we live with it.