The Hornets beat the Lakers
The biggest crowd of the season saw the Hornets at their best tonight, getting an early jump on the Lakers, building up big leads and refusing to surrender. They were physical and acted like they had something to play for, even though they’re just a couple of weeks away from certain vacation.
Some might argue that wins like this are pointless, but I have to disagree. The Hornets needed Chris Paul to come back for the home stretch, playoff hopes or no playoff hopes, and the fans were in dire need of some thrills before this ugly season ended. They need to believe that the Hornets aren’t completely broken, that there’s some hope for next season, some reason to renew those season tickets. And tonight they got that. 18,205 of them (plus Bruce Willis) were treated to scrappy defense, big runs and a win over the best in the West.
108-100 the final score.
As is the norm, Kobe deferred to his teammates for much of the first half. The Hornets rarely left him go against single coverage, and he didn’t try to force anything. In the second half, Kobe was looking for his shot much more aggressively, especially down the stretch in the fourth. The Hornets still sent double teams and managed to get the ball out of his hands several times.
Marcus Thornton was the primary defender on Bryant and he gave the job everything he had, never resting, fighting for position, swiping, bumping. Kobe dropped some jumpers over him and was able to get by Marcus off the dribble a few times, but he was made work for everything. James Posey and Chris Paul also spent time checking Kobe and they too gave him nothing easy.
Still, Kobe finished with 31 points on 11-of-18 shooting. Not too shabby. The Hornets really lucked out with other Lakers having a terrible night offensively, especially Derek Fisher and Ron Artest, who combined to go 2-of-15 from deep. They got a lot of open looks out of those doubles on Kobe and simply couldn’t knock them down. Really, if it wasn’t for Pau Gasol dominating the paint the Hornets would have won this game by 30.
Lots to like here. CP finally seemed to have his shooting legs back and was dropping jumpers from the outset. He was often able to draw a second defender coming off a high screen and whip the ball back out and get it rotating to the other side for an open look. Chris was especially effective coming off those side screen-and-rolls, beating the help easily along the sideline, taking his dribble down under the basket and disjointing the defense.
Those 39 minutes were the most CP played since returning from injury, and he also managed his first double-double since the comeback: 15 points, 13 assists.
I also loved seeing Chris going hard against Kobe down the stretch, both guys competitive as hell, neither willing to back down.
Other notes and observations
- Darren Collison came in off the bench and tore apart Jordan Farmar, harassing him on D and frequently leaving him in the dust at the other end. 17 points on 9 shots in 21 minutes.
- I was a little worried when Okafor went to the bench late in the third quarter, and Songaila joined Paul, Collison, Thornton and West on the floor. With the Hornets not exactly known for their perimeter defense and West and Songaila not exactly known for interior defense, I suspected that would be the beginning of the end. Credit to both those bigs though as they fought hard to keep Gasol in check while the offense kept on rolling.
- One play by Songaila that I have to mention: Just before halftime, he stole an attempted scoop pass underneath by Kobe, outletted to CP, then hauled ass down the other end of the floor, even passing out Chris on the fastbreak, got the ball back and tossed in a running reverse layup. Great hustle.
- Free throws were huge down the stretch, with the Hornets scoring their last 12 points from the line (12-14 shooting). The Hornets attempted 34 free-throws for the game, far more than their league-low 20.3 average.
- Posey: better late than never with the shooting. He’s 8-of-13 from deep in the last three games. Before that he had hit just 4-of-30 dating back to mid-February.
That’s all I’ve got for tonight. The Hornets wrap up their home stand Wednesday against the Wizards.
UPDATE: Game highlights from NBA.com…