Fast Breaks: Hornets vs. Lakers, Game 4
The New Orleans Hornets have discovered the formula for defeating the Los Angeles Lakers: have Chris Paul deliver a superhuman performance. On Sunday night, the star point guard did just that for the second time this series. He finished with game highs of 27 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists to lead the Hornets to a 93-88 Game 4 victory that tied their first-round series at 2-2. It's a fairly stunning development for the seemingly undermanned Hornets, who are playing without leading scorer David West, especially after the defending champs seemed to be in command after a road win in Game 3 on Friday. But now the Lakers find themselves in a dogfight and must hope that Kobe Bryant is OK to play in Game 5 on Tuesday in Los Angeles.
• This night in New Orleans was all about Paul. In the first half, the Hornets played less pick-and-roll than we've seen. They looked to get everyone involved with more of a motion game, and Paul was content to play facilitator, with four points on just three shots and nine assists. In the second half, New Orleans re-emphasized its pick-and-roll game, and its floor leader took over. Paul had 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the final 24 minutes. New Orleans appeared to set its picks for Paul higher on the floor than in previous games. There were fewer mid-range shots available, but Paul had more space to work with, getting into the lane more frequently to set up his own offense, and also collapsing the Lakers' defense to line up good looks for teammates. Throw in a couple ankle-breaking moves along the way, and Paul's performance was a thing of beauty to watch. As in Game 1, when he had 33 points, 14 assists and two turnovers, it was an absolute clinic in point-guard play. Paul's final assist came on Jarrett Jack's 7-footer that gave the Hornets a 90-86 lead with nine seconds left. Jack then added three free throws to ice the game.
• Kobe had 17 points on just 5-of-18 shooting, thanks to another strong performance on defense by Trevor Ariza, who repeatedly forced his former teammate into difficult shots. Bryant was held scoreless in the first half, shooting 0-of-7 from the floor, before picking it up with 14 points in the third quarter, helping keep the Lakers in the game. Bryant left the arena on crutches after injuring his left foot late in the game, but he told reporters that he expected to play in Game 5.
• The Hornets, one of the best defensive-rebounding teams in the league this season, were finally able to control the backboard against the bigger Lakers after getting pounded all series. Los Angeles outrebounded New Orleans by an average of 43-36 in the first three games, but in Game 4, the Hornets turned the tables with a 39-32 edge. In particular, New Orleans' 20-4 advantage in second-chance points was striking, after the average for the series had been 15-9 in L.A.'s favor in the first three games. Amazingly, it was Paul who led the charge in defensive rebounding, scrapping his way to 11 of them, as compared to big men Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry, who had one and three, respectively. To be fair, Okafor (five) and Landry (four) were strong on the offensive glass.
• The first half of Game 4 had a bizarre feel: Ariza and Ron Artest were the offensive stars, while Paul and Bryant hardly scored. Ariza had 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting in the half, getting into the lane repeatedly and finishing a variety of slashing, twisting shots. Ariza, however, missed all five of his second-half shots and ended up with 19 points. Artest, meanwhile, had 16 points on 7-of-9 from the field, overpowering Marco Belinelli around the basket and also knocking down a couple threes. But he went scoreless and attempted only one shot in the second half.
• The Hornets were one of the league's best in the turnover game during the regular season, and it's been a key to this series. They had just 10 turnovers in Game 4, and for the series they're now averaging 6.5 turnovers in wins and 15 in losses. The Hornets have also had great success getting to the line against the Lakers, who allowed the fewest free-throw attempts in the league. On Sunday, New Orleans finally hit them, too, making 23-of-27 (85 percent), after previously shooting just 69 percent for the series.