It took at least a game more than most people expected, but the Lakers finally polished off the Hornets Thursday night in New Orleans, winning Game 6 98-80.
Here's how it broke down.
1. Defense. Before the game, I wrote about the need for Chris Paul not just to play well, but at a level approaching the upper edges of elite (as he was in Games 1 and 4) for the Hornets to have a chance. Fair to say he didn't get there. For the first time in the series, the Lakers almost completely eliminated Paul as a factor. CP3 finished the first half with only one field goal, four assists, and two turnovers as the Lakers crowded him on the ball, and when he gave it up L.A. did a great job denying him opportunities to get it back. The third quarter wasn't particularly kind, either, as Paul had more turnovers (two) than buckets (one).Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images
Andrew Bynum carried the Lakers through the first half Thursday in Game 6.
He'd finish with 10 points on 4-of-9 from the floor, and while he had 11 assists also turned the ball over five times, a ratio the Lakers could more than live with.
All series long, Paul has been called the head of the snake. Take it off, and the whole thing dies. Thursday, the Lakers not only decapitated the slithery reptile, but turned the skin into a boots and barbecued the meat. L.A. was very strong inside, pressuring nearly everything near the bucket (six blocks), forced most of New Orleans' possessions deep into the clock, and successfully executed their plan to keep the Hornets operating away from the paint and at mid-range.
Perhaps most importantly, the Lakers absolutely shut off the glass on that side of the ball. Despite shooting only 43 percent from the floor and bricking 40 attempts, New Orleans had only seven offensive boards, and a mere four at the end of the third.
The Lakers limited the Hornets to only 34 points in the first half, and in the fourth quarter when it was time to drop the hammer, held New Orleans to six points over the first six minutes. By the time the Hornets rallied, the game was well in hand. Even accounting for the relatively limited collective skill of New Orleans' offense and a couple off shooting nights, the Lakers were outstanding. When they defend like this, beating them is a very tall order.
2. Andrew Bynum. Any defensive effort from the Lakers this good obviously features strong work from Bynum. At this point, too, it's really no surprise to watch him get on the glass. In Game 6, Bynum put the whole package together, carrying the Lakers offensively through what was an otherwise woeful start for the Lakers. At about the six minute mark of the second quarter, Bynum was 6-0f-9 from the floor. Everyone else in purple combined to shoot 6-of-23.
Needless to say, Bynum was better. And it included not simply putbacks on offensive rebounds, but moves in the post and face up jumpers. He had 12 points and seven rebounds at halftime, en route to 18 and 12, plus the two blocks and a steal. This in a very modest 30 minutes of work.
3. Pau Gasol (Second Half). Early on, Gasol tried to be active, working his way to a few decent looks, but nothing went down. He finished the first half with a pair of assists and four rebounds, but without a field goal and only two points as Bynum produced inside in a very sluggish offensive performance for the Lakers.
In the third quarter, though, Gasol found his stride. He landed his first bucket of the night with a quick move on the left baseline, freeing himself up for a short jumper. Gasol quickly doubled his total with a catch-and-shoot at the right elbow on the next trip. Later, after taking the pass from Kobe Bryant off the pick and roll, he made a nice lob inside to Bynum who turned it into points. A couple strong moves inside against D.J. Mbenga were fruitful as well. He'd finish the quarter with 10 points, adding a block and a couple nice defensive plays as well.
When it was all said and done, Gasol wrapped up what has unquestionably been a frustrating series with a pretty reasonable stat line. 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and a pair of blocks, building on a good effort in Game 5. He's not where the Lakers need him to be, but has put a damper on the citywide panic meter.
4. Offensive Rebounding. The Lakers owned the defensive glass, and fueled their attack (particularly early) at the other end by putting in very solid work on the offensive boards, too. Bynum was dominant, earning eight on his own. The team finished with 14 on 40 misses, a tidy 35 percent, above their season average (29 percent).Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire
Kobe Bryant had his ups and downs in Game 6, but the Lakers didn't need big production from him.
As it was in Game 5, the Lakers absolutely dominated in second chance points, helping explain the lopsided score.
5. Free Throws. In the playoffs, the little things are magnified. The Lakers sustained themselves through a 40 point first half with defense, before exploding for 58 in the second. I mentioned the offensive rebounding and huge disparity in second chance points, but the Lakers also did themselves right by not costing themselves possessions with turnovers (12 overall), and just as important were money from the stripe. 25 makes in 26 tries.
I didn't love Kobe's shot selection for much of the game, and at points he was forcing too much, but 10 free throws are a very positive indication of his ability to attack the rim. It's a good thing on any night, but particularly in relation to that bum foot and ankle. He was good, not great, but it didn't matter for the Lakers. Again, always good to see.
Matt Barnes. Eight points, five boards, heaps of activity. If he can keep himself healthy, Barnes could be a major factor for the Lakers going forward.
Ron Artest had only two field goals, but added five assists and in one incredible sequence at the end of the third quarter almost singlehandedly earned the Lakers four points in the final thirty seconds, when they otherwise may not have even had time for a clean possession. Artest swiped the ball from Paul under the Hornets' bucket for a layup (cue biceps kiss), then blocked Jason Smith from behind at the other end, springing Kobe the other way, where he was hammered by Smith and sent to the line after what was called a flagrant foul. Great stuff, indicative of the defensive effort put forth by the team all night.
Save the bad start offensively, I'm low on complaints. Punt.