The Lakers didn't play particularly well in Game 2. Kobe Bryant only had 11 points (6 in the fourth quarter), Pau Gasol had another awful game (2 of 10 for 8 points and just 5 rebounds) and they turned it over just as many times as they did in Game 1. But the difference between the two games is this time the Lakers stuck to their game plan and played with some energy. That's pretty much all it takes for the Lakers to beat the Hornets.
The most obvious part of the game plan was to get the ball inside. When you have two players like Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum there should be plenty of passes into the post. This is especially true when those two are going up against much smaller foes like Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor. For some reason the Lakers didn't do this in Game 1 and they were outscored in the paint 52-34. With a mismatch as big as the Lakers have in the post that's simply inexcusable and a complete mental lapse.
It seemed like every possession in the first quarter the Lakers looked to get the ball inside to their bigs. Andrew Bynum made the most of his opportunities. Bynum had a team-high 17 points on 8 of 11 shooting. He even hit a few jumpers as if he stole Pau Gasol's power in that category.
For a second straight game Gasol struggled. After just 8 points and 6 rebounds in Game 1, Gasol had 8 points and 5 boards. But it wasn't for a lack of touches. Gasol got the ball in the post 5 times in the first. He passed out of it 3 times, missed a short one and made an 8-footer. Phil Jackson gave Gasol a chance to get his confidence back late in the third. With 3:53 remaining, Landry picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench joining Okafor who had picked up four earlier in the quarter. With those two out, Gasol would be up against Aaron Gray or Jason Smith. He missed all three of his shots including two in the paint and never made an aggressive mood. It seems like he has lost his confidence and while the Lakers might not need him to produce in this series, they will need him going forward in the playoffs. Even without him though, the Lakers turned things around and outscored the Hornets 50-32 in the paint.
The second part of the game plan had to do with how to contain Chris Paul. Paul killed the Lakers every way possible on Sunday and had no problems doing it. LA made things much more difficult for him last night. They didn't look to double team him which would've allowed him to carve up the defense with his passing ability and instead kept him from driving into the paint. They kept him on the perimeter and limited him to jumpers. By not looking to double, the Lakers were able to force turnovers by getting into the passing lanes. LA had 8 steals as the Hornets turned it over 16 times. That's quite the improvement over the 3 turnovers the Lakers forced on Sunday.
They also never let Paul get comfortable. They threw everyone at him. First it was Kobe guarding him, then Fisher, then Artest, and then Blake. Paul was never allowed to get into any sort of rhythm and aside from a couple 3-pointer buzzer beaters he was held in check.
Outside of sticking to the game plan, it was the Lakers bench that made the difference. Back from his bout with chicken pox, Steve Blake looked to push the ball. This change of pace is exactly what the Lakers need from their bench. Blake, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown are built to run. They should be looking to agitate the opponent with aggressive defense and energy. You know Matt Barnes wants to agitate the opponent. The Laker bench outscored the Hornets reserves 27-13 behind 16 from Odom.
It was the bench that kept this game out of reach from the Hornets. Beginning the fourth quarter, the Lakers led 63-56 and Bryant and Gasol were on the bench. Kobe would sit for the first 5 minutes and the bench managed to push the lead up to 13, outscoring the Hornets 9-3. If they hadn't been able to maintain that lead the pressure would've fallen on Bryant who was already having an off night.
Lost in the mix of Gasol's struggles and Bryant's bipolar performances has been Ron Artest. Artest looks more comfortable in the triangle offense than ever before. He understands the spacing and he is playing to his strengths. He's playing under control, posting up when he has a size advantage, hitting open shots and not looking to create his own shot from the perimeter. A consistent Artest does wonders for this team.
This is the winning formula. This is how they have to play in New Orleans on Friday to take back this series. Hopefully Gasol will snap out of his funk but even if he doesn't, if the Lakers execute their plan they will win this series.