Lakers 100, Hornets 109: We Are Not Amused

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 17: Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets shoots over Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers as Laker Pau Gasol #16 and Hornet Aaron Gray #34 look for a rebound in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 17, 2011 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Hornets won 109-101. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

I just noticed what a beautiful day it is outside. Here in Hollywood it's about 80 degrees. The sun is bathing the city in a smooth, calming light. People are on the sidewalks, skateboarding and enjoying afternoon strolls. The city has not crumbled into a lawless hellscape in which looters run amok and stray dogs feast on the dead. The social contract is holding together and the city's continuing to function somehow, despite a monstrously bad performance by our Los Angeles Lakers. I can only assume that the people I'm seeing on the streets either aren't Lakers fans or don't know how this afternoon's game turned out. For today, at least, they're the lucky ones.

The accepted wisdom, almost universally held, coming into the Lakers' playoff series with the New Orleans Hornets was that the champs would have little difficulty rolling into the second round. And that wasn't thoughtless Laker fan triumphalism. The Hornets really weren't a fearsome squad this season. They lost all four of their regular-season games against the Lakers by an average of almost 11 points. Any kind of objective evaluation of the match-ups pointed to this being a quick series with an unhappy ending for Hornets fans. It still could turn out that way, but already the Hornets have thrown more of a scare into the Lakers than anyone saw coming.

How to understand the Hornets' 109 to 100 upset victory in Game One? Begin with their offensive execution, which was damn near perfect. Kind of out of nowhere, Chris Paul became Chris Paul again. He wrecked the Lakers' defense with a masterpiece of a game, scoring with lethal efficiency, confidently orchestrating his team's half-court sets and linking up with whichever of his teammates happened to cut open at any given time. It had been a long, long time since the Lakers had seen this Chris Paul, the one with the skillset of a master surgeon and the remorseless instincts of a serial killer. His individual stat line of 33 points on 24 shots (including free-throw possessions), 14 assists and just two turnovers provides a partial glimpse into his brilliance. The more telling stat is the Hornets' offensive efficiency as a team. They scored 1.21 points per possession, a dazzling improvement on the 1.06 points per trip they averaged against the Lakers in the regular season.

CP3's staggering assault might have been survivable had his supporting cast not stepped up in equally unexpected fashion. We all have a mental list of opposing players we think could cause problems for the Lakers this postseason. Russell Westbrook is on it. Derrick Rose, certainly. LeBron James is there. Nowhere on this list do you find the names Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli, Aaron Gray or Willie Green. That's because they're not that good. But for 48 minutes today, they rewarded Paul's bold, clever passing by converting the open looks he created for them. Those guys combined to score 45 points on 31 shots. And everyone in a Hornets kit held onto the ball like it was a briefcase containing nuclear launch codes. Just three turnovers all game long: one each in the first, second and third quarters and none in the fourth.

Credit the Hornets for executing on offense almost flawlessly. The Lakers made matters worse with pick-and-roll defense that couldn't have been any harder to watch if someone was putting lit cigarettes out in my eyeballs. Switching on high screens frequently left big men stranded on the perimeter to guard Chris Paul, with predictable results. Either Paul easily broke down whoever was guarding him, or the need to bring help defense opened up a clean outside look or a big man near the hoop.

The Laker offense didn't have a game for the ages, either. They shot the ball poorly in the first half and stayed close only because they piled up 18 free-throw attempts. In the third quarter Kobe Bryant got the attack moving with 11 points. In the fourth he and Ron Artest combined for 16 to keep alive the hope that the Lakers could pull out a victory they didn't deserve. But as has been the case all year long in close games, the Laker D down the stretch was an unspeakable mess. After a Kobe three cut the Hornets' lead to two with just over six minutes to play, the Hornets scored on 11 of their next 13 possessions to close out the win.

Pau Gasol will receive, and deserves, a big helping of blame for this loss. He looked completely disengaged on offense, scoring eight points on 11 shots and collecting zero offensive boards. I have no idea why he was so lost today. He should've been able to exploit a height advantage over Carl Landry, who's no one's idea of a top defender, but he was too mentally checked out. In more encouraging news, Andrew Bynum put up a 13-and-9 and appeared to have no ill effects from his latest injury scare.

The Laker bench continues to underwhelm. In his preview piece yesterday, Actuarially Sound wrote about how the Laker reserves struggle to score without Pau on the floor, and that was certainly the case in this one. Check out their "production" in the second and fourth quarters.

Q

Lineup

Time On Floor

Possessions

Points Scored

2nd

Johnson, Brown, Barnes, Odom, Bynum

3:15

5

1

4th

Fisher, Brown, Barnes, Odom, Bynum

2:42

4

4

The Hornets outscored the Lakers by 11 over these stretches. (Thanks to Actuarially Sound for hitting me up with these numbers after the game.) Although Gasol was the most conspicuously absent of the Laker stars, Lamar Odom wasn't much more impressive, with just 10 points and a single board.

The champs have now played four games this season at Staples Center with a 12:30 start time, and they've lost all four. Fortunately, I believe we're done with the early tips for the rest of the season. They won't be missed.

With Game Two on Wednesday night, we'll have plenty of time over the next few days to assess what adjustments the Lakers need to make and what, if anything, this loss portends for the rest of the series. Certainly, there's no reason to be hugely alarmed. The Lakers remain the heavy favorites to advance to the next round. A lot of things went right for the Hornets today that they'll find difficult to replicate. But for one afternoon, they were clearly the superior team, by a not-insignificant margin.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see if the looting has started. I could use a new plasma to watch Game of Thrones.

 

Poss.

TO%

FTA/
FGA

FT%

3FGA/FGA

2PT%

3PT%

EFG

TS%

OReb Rate

DReb Rate

PPP

N.O.

90

3

0.42

70

0.14

54

36

54

58

13

74

1.21

L.A.

91

13

0.45

79

0.18

46

46

50

56

26

87

1.10 

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore

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