When various NBA analysts predicted that the Lakers would roll to a one-sided series victory over the Hornets based on their 4-0 regular season sweep, this was essentially what they were expecting. Too much Lakers size and too many point-blank scores in the paint. Too much Kobe Bryant shot-making whenever the Lakers need key buckets. Not enough answers from the underdog Hornets.
In a game that was frustratingly similar to several of Los Angeles decisive victories over New Orleans in recent seasons, the Lakers kept the Hornets at arms length for much of the night, before pulling away in the fourth quarter. It was only a seven-point game through three quarters, but Los Angeles dominated the final period, leading by as many as 18 in the waning moments.
The Lakers totaled 48 points in the paint, received a bounceback game from Pau Gasol (17 points, 10 rebounds, 7-for-13 shooting) and relied on Bryants frequent momentum-changing offense (30 points, 10-for-20, 4-for-7 on treys) to regain the upper hand in the series. Los Angeles also capitalized on a 20-9 edge in bench scoring, spearheaded by Lamar Odoms 13 points and nine rebounds.
In what was probably the most discussed home game the Hornets have played since Game 7 of the 2008 Western Conference semifinals vs. San Antonio, New Orleans sustained a tough loss in front of a standing-room only crowd. A player-by-player look at Game 3:
Chris Paul: He was brilliant in the first half, depositing 18 points and feasting on mid-range and 20-foot jumpers. Lakers guards were frustrated much of the game and often picked up fouls 25 feet from the basket while trying to stay in front of the four-time All-Star. Unfortunately for the Hornets, Trevor Ariza was the only other player who started quickly offensively. Paul finished with 22 points and eight assists but had five turnovers.
Marco Belinelli: After going 2-for-8 from the field and 1-for-7 from three-point range in Game 3, hes 8-for-26 (31 percent) and 3-for-14 (21 percent) over three games. The Hornets obviously need much better accuracy from their fifth-leading scorer in the regular season and top three-point shooter to generate the offense to hang with the two-time defending champions.
Trevor Ariza: Picked up where he left off from his 22-point outing in Game 2, tallying eight quick points in the first quarter in Game 3. He added four points in the second half, for a 12-point, 12-rebound game in 42 minutes of action.
Carl Landry: When hes been on the floor in this series, hes been difficult for the Lakers to slow down, but foul trouble curtailed his impact again, at least in the first half of Game 3. The power forward had just five points at halftime but rolled to an 18-point second half. He finished with 23 points, highlighted by one of his trademark 11-for-12 nights at the foul line.
Emeka Okafor: Broke out after foul-plagued games in Los Angeles, this time netting 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Was particularly effective on hook shots, making four of those in the paint. Logged 41 minutes, with backup Aaron Gray appearing to be hampered by his ankle injury.
Jarrett Jack: He was a major reason for the Game 1 victory, but the backup point guard struggled in Game 3, going 1-for-6 from the field amid a forgettable night for the New Orleans bench. Jack had two points and four assists.
Aaron Gray: Played seven minutes in the first half but did not get back on the floor after intermission. He criticized his own performance after the game, saying I was a step slow, out of position. I just couldnt help my team. Despite a bluish streak across his right foot, he declined to blame his ankle sprain, adding We dont make excuses on this team. It is what it is.
Jason Smith: Filled in for Landry during stretches when the starter had to sit during foul trouble. Smith was solid offensively at 3-for-3 for six points all on mid-range jumpers but drew the difficult one-on-one matchup of Lamar Odom, which the Lakers frequently tried to exploit on isolations.
Willie Green: Scoreless at 0-for-4 from the field, including a couple difficult jumpers.
Quincy Pondexter: In his NBA playoff debut, rookie was 0-for-3 with one assist.
D.J. Mbenga: Was again needed to match up against the Lakers immense frontline and fared well, with two rebounds in four minutes of action.
For complete postgame quotes from both teams, click here.
After not practicing Thursday following a cross-country flight home from Los Angeles, the Hornets were back on the court Friday morning for shootaround in the New Orleans Arena. It should be an incredible atmosphere in the building for Game 3 tonight (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.), with the game sold out, attended by numerous celebrities, as well as a contingent of a NOLA-era record of roughly 300 credentialed media members. First-year coach Monty Williams and Hornets players were made available to a large crowd of reporters from both cities during shootaround. Here are some of the highlights from this morning:
On whether Game 1 and 2 reinforced the Hornets belief that they can compete with Lakers:
I think so. The way I look at it is we gained their respect a little bit. To come out in Game 2 and play with that kind of presence and energy, it says a lot about the way we played in Game 1. I think our guys have confidence but theyre not crazy. They know were playing against a monster and youve got to beat a monster, you cant go out there and expect them to lay down.
On whether his teams intimidation by the Lakers has dissipated from the regular season:
Yeah because I think we were so embarrassed against the Lakers. When the team beats you four-zip, you, as Kobe said, youre motivated. He was right. We are motivated. But were motivated with a great deal of respect. But that respect doesnt mean were going to lay down and were in awe of who were playing against. We want to beat this team and we realize we have to play almost perfect basketball to do so.
On returning home to New Orleans:
Were looking forward to it. Were in a really good position to be at home, to play in front of your own fans, to sleep in your own bed. Its all good but we have to come out with the mentality that we can win and believe we can win and we have to stick to our game plan. Thats a big key for us. We thought we deviated a bit last game and it cost us. Obviously were playing against the best team in the league and were going to need our fans to rally behind us tonight.
On the officiating in the series:
Are you trying to get me fined? No, Im not talking about the referees. It is what it is. What can I do about (Game 2)? The refs are going to do the best they can. I firmly believe theyre trying to do the best I can. Obviously I dont agree with every call against my team. To me those are excuses. We dont believe in them. The game is over with and were not going to change it by talking about it now.
On facing Phil Jackson and whether its a personal challenge:
Me trying to get personal with Coach Jackson would be irresponsible and stupid. It just wouldnt make any sense. It cant be personal. I have a great deal of respect for Coach Jackson and the way he has handled his business. To me, hes one of the most underrated coaches in the league history-wise. He has won all these championships and all everybody ever talks about is the talent he has had. To me the mental fortitude you have to have to win that many playoff games and series, I cant imagine that. Ill play checkers with him but I wont play chess. I dont even know all the moves. I know what a pawn can do and thats about it. That describes me.
On if there has been additional emphasis on free throws:
No. Its something that the guys have worked on. They know they have to knock down free throws. We havent had those games like that this year where weve missed that many free throws.
On yelling at teammates on the court during second half of Game 2 for more effort:
It was just me trying to get their attention for the sort of effort (that we need). (The Lakers) outnumber us in a lot of things across the board. They outnumber in size, probably talent-wise, experience. To counteract those things, the only thing we have to back it up is effort. Weve got to have it for 48 minutes. We cant have those lulls on certain plays where we give up an offensive rebound and they get free-throw opportunities, or they get an and-one. Those extra opportunities, we cant give those up. Those 50-50 balls, where its pretty much who wants it more that ends up with the possession, weve got to end up with every single one of those. We cant let them fall by the wayside.
On interactions between Hornets teammates:
On this team its never personal. Its always about the team. Im sure if they see me being lax or anybody else, they definitely have the right to get on me the same exact way. They didnt take it personally at all. They just said OK and knew it was for the betterment of the team.
On importance of home crowd in New Orleans:
Its always great to come back and sleep in your own bed, and have the travel factor out of the way. And also get the fans behind you. Sometimes when youre not playing particularly well, either you personally or team-wise, (fans) do a good job of providing that sixth man for us.
On how Hornets can return to three-turnover performance in Game 1 after 16 in Game 2:
Playing smart. I thought we had a little drop-off in our energy. I dont know if that took a toll on us, picking up (the Lakers) fullcourt. But thats the game plan. I think were definitely able to sustain it. We were kind of like dogs being let out of a cage in Game 1. In Game 2, we kind of took a step back, but I think well be ready to get back at it in Game 3.
On Hornets lack of postseason experience, especially compared to Lakers:
Its good and bad. Obviously we havent been in some of these situations down the stretch before. But in the same sense, were playing carefree. Were not nervous. We dont have anything to lose. Nobody expects much from us anyway. We can just go out and play with a carefree mentality, but hard at the same time.
On winning a high-scoring Game 1 but losing a low-scoring Game 2:
When we tend to hold teams in the 80s, we come out victorious. When we let teams get 100-plus, thats when we have trouble. We tend to let them shoot a higher percentage from the field and the three-point line. I dont know why the game went the way it did in Game 2, as far as scoring, but thats the kind of games we like. We like the dogfight, the ugly games, the blue-collar games. Well definitely try to bring the same mentality tonight.
On crowd for Game 3:
From what Ive been hearing, its going to be pretty rowdy tonight. Its a gold-out
Ive never been a part of one of those. Im expecting were going to have a tremendous support system. Ive got my family in town and theyre acting crazy, so theyll be a part of it as well.
On keys to Game 3:
"I think the game will be won by whoever throws out the first punch and is the aggressor tonight. We're at home now in The Hive and hopefully that gives us an advantage. The crowd will be behind us. We're pumped up and excited to play Game 3 at home."
On adjustments for Game 3:
"We'll definitely make adjustments, but I can't tell you what we're going to do. Every team makes adjustments every game. I'm sure they're going to make some adjustments. We've made adjustments going into tonight's games."
On Pau Gasol:
"It's been two games. They lost one game and won one. Everyone is talking about Gasol not being a presence, but he could come out here and have 40 points and 20 rebounds tonight and they lose, so it doesn't really matter. If he does put up big numbers or he doesn't, I don't think that's what they're looking for. I think they're looking for a win and we can't have that."
On whether Hornets relish being the underdog:
"I do. I love it. I've been an underdog all my life so people are not expecting anything out of us. They expect the Lakers to come in here and win two games and go back to L.A. and it's over, but that's not what we expect. We're a defensive-minded team and we believe in one another. Who cares what anybody else thinks? As long as the guys in our locker room think we can win this series and move on to the next. That's all that matters."