Hornets Win Playoff Opener
The Hornets defeated the Lakers in L.A. Sunday 109-100. With the win, New Orleans takes an early 1-0 lead in the best of seven playoff series. Chris Paul was simply incredible, scoring 33 points, dishing out 14 assists, pulling down 7 rebounds, and swiping 4 steals. He accounted for 63 of the 109 Hornet points.
“I just felt good tonight,” said a smiling Paul in postgame. “It’s the playoffs man. It’s a whole ‘nother energy. It’s a whole ‘nother thing.”
Paul played with an energy that could not be topped. CP3 played in 80 games during the regular season. Sunday’s heroic performance was undoubtedly his best of the season. Part of Paul’s offensive success was the high pick and roll. He was unstoppable out of it. Chris had a burst and quickness off the dribble that gave Hornet fans flashbacks of the 2008 postseason.
“When he’s fresh, nobody can stay in front of him,” said Hornet head coach Monty Williams. “The pick and roll is what he does.”
Aside from Paul’s play, the other decisive stat in the Hornets win was their points in the paint. Size has killed the Hornets all year. Nobody has more size than the Lakers. Yet on Sunday, New Orleans won the battle of points in the paint, topping L.A. 52-34. This stat was the most telling, shocking, and surprising statistic in the Hornets upset win over the Lakers in Game 1.
The unsung Hornet hero on Sunday was Aaron Gray. The backup New Orleans Center scored a season-high 12 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting from the field. Gray took up space, and played terrific, physical defense against the bigs of the Lakers. The +/- stat in any box score can be telling. It measures how your team fared against the opponent when you were on the floor. Chris Paul was +7 for the Hornets Sunday, while Kobe Bryant was +2. Who had the best +/- in Sunday’s game? Aaron Gray held that honor with a +25 in 20 minutes of action. No other player was even close.
“Gray outplayed our big guys tonight,” said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson. “He’s a kid that has given us some problems.”
Unfortunately, Gray came down with a mild ankle sprain at the 1:07 mark of the final quarter. Hopefully the swelling will subside soon, and Gray can return to action Wednesday.
“We talked about attacking and going to the basket. If we can get to the free throw line we can set our defense, and our bench was a big part of that,” explained Williams.
Defense has been the strength of the Hornets all year. The defensive gameplan drawn up by Williams and his staff Sunday was commendable. It was simple. First, be extremely physical. Second, let Kobe get his, while pressuring the rest of the Lakers to create offense.
“There’s nothing easy about guarding Kobe Bryant,” explained Williams. “You’re not going to stop him. We know that. The thing that we did tonight was keep everyone else at bay.”
L.A. lost half of the 18 games in which Bryant shot 25 or more shots this season. In the 14 games he shot 15 or less, the Lakers were undefeated. New Orleans execution of the defensive strategy was exemplary. Kobe had 26 FG attempts
Sunday. None of his teammates even reached 10. Including Pau Gasol, who was a paltry 2-9 from the field. New Orleans got physical with Pau early, and it seemed to have an effect on his game.
L.A. will indubitably come out with a focused gameplan on Wednesday night for Game 2. Expect the Lakers to go inside more and try to trap Chris Paul off the high pick and roll. Monty Williams will need to concoct another superb gameplan. Regardless of the outcome this Wednesday, Williams will have his team focused on their gameplan.
“We have to focus on us,” explained Williams. “Obviously we scout and try to guard the triangle (laker offense) the best we can. But we have to focus on us. We (can’t) bring the same mentality as today. We have to bring more of what we had this game.”
“Once you get into the playoffs you have a clean slate,” said Paul. “That’s how we tried to approach this game.”
With the way the Hornets played in Game 1, a “clean slate” approach will be welcomed the entire series.