This wasnt supposed to be a series, went the conventional wisdom across the nations airwaves. The Hornets werent supposed to be able to hang with the Lakers, and if they were able to even win one game, it probably wouldnt be until Game 3 or 4 back home in New Orleans.
So much for that.
Seventh-seeded New Orleans led nearly wire-to-wire, stunning the No. 2 seed and two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers on their home floor at Staples Center. Although the outcome will come as a surprise to many, there was nothing fluky about the victory. The Hornets led by eight at halftime a margin that wouldve been double digits if not for a Ron Artest halfcourt heave at the buzzer and had at least a two- or three-possession cushion on the Lakers for the bulk of the final period.
Entering the 2011 playoffs, many analysts said there were two first-round series in which the lower seed had no chance: Chicago vs. Indiana, and the Lakers vs. New Orleans. There is one big difference between the pair of matchups, though. The Bulls (62-20) won 25 more games than the Pacers (37-45). The margin between the Lakers (57-25) and Hornets (46-36) was 11 games.
The challenge now for New Orleans is to come back Wednesday and put together another outstanding performance in Game 2 on the Lakers home floor. Visibly, the Hornets seemed to demonstrate that they understood that Sundays victory merely puts them up a game in the series. Instead of seeing jubilant players acting like theyd posted a momentous upset, when the buzzer sounded Sunday, the Hornets gave each other cordial handshakes. Meanwhile, ABCs TV cameras caught Monty Williams calmly adjusting his tie.
After each 2011 playoff game, well have player-by-player analysis of the Hornets roster members who saw action, along with postgame quotes from both teams. Heres the rundown after Game 1:
Chris Paul: Following a 2010-11 regular season in which many have wondered out loud if hes still an elite player, he delivered a 33-point, seven-rebound, 14-assist, four-steal virtuoso performance in Game 1 of the playoffs. Many have also called for him to take over games with more frequency. On Sunday, when the Lakers absolutely had to get defensive stops in crunch time, the four-time All-Star was unstoppable, scoring 17 fourth-quarter points.
Marco Belinelli: During the Hornets 0-4 mark against the Lakers during the regular season, his subpar shooting was a significant factor. He reversed that Sunday by scoring eight quick points in the first quarter and 10 in the first half. He played fewer minutes in the second half, but finished 4-for-9 (2-for-4 on treys) from the field for 10 points.
Trevor Ariza: A dreadful offensive performance at 2-for-13 from floor, but he still played 39 minutes for defensive purposes. Certainly Ariza has not had a good season at the offensive end, but for those who think everything went perfectly for NOLA today, Ariza had a worst-case scenario kind of day on O.
Carl Landry: The same things that made Landry attractive when the Hornets acquired him in February showed up in a big way Sunday. His aggressive offensive mindset led to three dunks and two layups amid a 17-point outing. His knack for getting to the foul line resulted in a 5-for-5 day there.
Emeka Okafor: Wrong place, wrong time all afternoon. In his first NBA playoff game, Okafor could not catch a break, saddled with foul trouble from the moment he picked up personal No. 2 in the first quarter while being leveled on a post move by Andrew Bynum. Okafor fouled out with four points and two rebounds in just 22 minutes. The UConn product will gladly take the W, but had to be excited about getting back at it Wednesday. He barely had a chance today.
Aaron Gray: His finest moment in a Hornets uniform, hands down. In his ABC postgame interview, Paul called Gray the player of the game, after the 7-footer came up extremely big with a season-high 12 points in 20 minutes. Gray finished at the rim superbly, going a perfect 5-for-5 from the field.
Jarrett Jack: What a luxury its been for Monty Williams to be able to use the excellent ballhandler and quality free-throw shooter during fourth-quarter crunch time. Jack continued to deliver key contributions, scoring eight of his 15 points in the final quarter. He had a rare 1-for-3 trip to the foul line in the second quarter, but was 4-for-4 there in the fourth.
Willie Green: Like Jack, hes been a common fourth-quarter factor. He had four of his eight points in the final period, scoring two buckets on aggressive plays late. He could smile about it later, but Green also airballed a free throw, possibly the first time thats ever happened to the career 76 percent foul shooter.
Jason Smith: An open baseline jumper for two points, along with three rebounds in 14 minutes. His best stat was the Hornets plus-10 with him on the floor.
D.J. Mbenga: A frequent DNP during the latter part of the regular season, the 7-footer logged six minutes in the first half, after Gray came in early due to Okafors foul trouble. Mbenga sank a mid-range jumper against his former team and grabbed one board.
For complete postgame quotes, click here.