Dissecting the final moments of the Lakers' 93-88 Game 4 loss to New Orleans
Overlook Kobe Bryant's scoreless first-half performance. Forget about Chris Paul's triple-double effort. And accept the Lakers' nearly three-quarter stretch in which they didn't grab an offensive rebound.
There's plenty of blame to go around for the Lakers' 93-88 Game 4 loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday, forcing the Lakers to return to New Orleans for Game 6 Thursday and adding further stress to a series they should have controlled.
The Lakers could have secured an ugly win if not for numerous lapses in the final 3:30. There were certainly some key plays in those final minutes that went the Lakers' way, but too many of them were executed the wrong way. Below is a play-by-play account of what went wrong in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
3:23-2:57. After Derek Fisher hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 83-79, the Hornets' Paul hoped to take advantage of his superior quickness on Fisher in the next possession. But it didn't happen. Hornets center Emeka Okafor tried setting a high pick on Fisher, with Pau Gasol ready to switch on Paul. But Fisher fought through the screen and immediately marked on Paul. Okafor set a screen again at the top of the key, but Fisher spun around the screen and stayed in front of Paul. Once Paul dribbled right, Fisher cut off his penetration and then quickly backed so he wouldn't get beat off the dribble. After Paul dribbled to his left and between the legs, Fisher swiped at the ball. Paul picked up the loose ball, but he had to settle for an off-balance three-pointer that hit off the backboard.
2:56-2:44: Lakers forward Ron Artest grabbed the rebound off Paul's miss and immediately gave the ball to Kobe Bryant, who drove into the lane but then met resistance from Okafor, prompting Bryant to throw a jump pass out to Artest at the top of the key. With no one marking him, Artest attempted a game-tying three-pointer, but the shot missed off the back rim. Lakers forward Lamar Odom grabbed the rebound, but Hornets guard Jarrett Jack immediately swiped the ball away from him. Odom wrapped him up, but New Orleans called a timeout.
2:43-2:29: The Hornets ran a high screen-and-roll with Okafor setting a pick on Fisher. Bynum initially switched on Paul, but as soon as Fisher caught up on the nearside perimeter, Bynum cut across the lane to guard Okafor. Paul found Marco Belinelli cutting toward the free-throw line and breezed past Artest after catching the pass. But Gasol immediately blocked Belinelli's shot in the paint, and the ball deflected off him before going out of bounds.
2:28-2:02: Lakers center Andrew Bynum set a pick on Trevor Ariza at the top of the key, allowing Bryant some space to drive right. Ariza immediately caught up and shut off Bryant's driving lane, so he passed to Fisher on the far side. He instantly fed an entry pass to Gasol on the far post and then cut to the corner perimeter. Gasol immediately passed the ball back to Fisher, who fired a jumper that hit off the back rim. Artest grabbed the rebound and had an open look for a putback despite the high traffic in the lane. But he kicked the ball out to Bryant, who pump-faked at Carl Landry and then pulled up for a 26-footer that hit off the front rim. The shot appeared rushed without the lift Bryant usually has on his clutch shots. Gasol fought for the rebound, but Paul grabbed the loose ball and drew the foul.
2:02-1:53: After Paul's free throws gave the Hornets an 85-80 advantage, Fisher manned the point. Bryant set a high screen on Paul for Fisher and then rolled out the perimeter. Meanwhile, Fisher drove the lane past Ariza and hit a high-arching left-handed layup, cutting the Hornets lead to 85-82.
1:53-1:31: Landry set a screen on Fisher, but immediately backed off after he fought through it. Hornets guard Willie Green cut up toward the top of the key to pick up a pass from Paul and Bryant immediately guarded him. Once Green drove left, Bryant caught up to him but then turned his left ankle before fouling him. Bryant limped while attempting to walk it off, prompting Lakers Coach Phil Jackson to take him out in favor of Shannon Brown. Bryant initially shook his head, indicating he didn't want to sit out, but Jackson implored him to come to the bench. He could been seen on the telecast telling Bryant to "sit down," and Lakers trainer Gary Vitti looked Bryant over. After Green made one of two free throws to extend the Hornets' cushion to 86-82, the Lakers call a timeout.
1:31-1:12: Bryant returned to the floor after the timeout, but immediately became frustrated. The feeling had nothing to do with the pain in his left ankle, however. Odom brought the ball up the floor and passed to Artest at the top of the key. Odom then got the ball back, prompting Bryant to cut across the lane and then out to the near-side perimeter. Once he caught the ball, Bryant went into triple-threat position against Ariza, drove left and threw a perfectly placed jump pass to Gasol. Despite anticipating the pass with his arms up high, Gasol dropped the ball and Paul picked it up. Bryant glared at Gasol for the mistake, something that visibly bothered Gasol as well. Paul was immediately fouled and hit the two free throws to widen the gap to 88-82.
1:12-1:01: Gasol immediately redeemed himself. After Odom threw him a pass on the far end, Gasol drove into the lane, stopped, pivoted left, hit a pull-up jumper and drew a foul on Landry. His jumper cut New Orleans' lead to 88-84, but he couldn't close the deficit any more. After Gasol's missed free throw hit the back rim, he grabbed the rebound and threw the ball up top to Fisher. After Fisher threw it back into Gasol on the far post, Gasol squared up on Landry, cut left into the lane and then missed a pull-up jumper. Paul initially grabbed the rebound, but Odom knocked the ball away and forced a jump ball.
Bryant stood frustrated on the sideline because he sat out in favor of Brown, assuming that Gasol would make the free throw and that the Lakers could depend more on Brown on defense, given Bryant's limitations with his ankle. The sequence could have allowed Bryant to have another chance at closing the deficit had he been in the game.
1:01-:45: Odom tipped the ball out to the far perimeter, where Bryant planned to cut. But Ariza beat Bryant to the ball and sprinted downcourt. At the time line, Ariza threw a pass to Green, who was immediately met by Artest contesting his shot. Ariza attempted the putback, but it was ruled offensive goaltending.
:39-:33.6: Odom drove into the lane with ease and precision and drew a foul on Landry off his left-handed layup attempt. Odom's two free throws sliced the Hornets' lead to 88-86.
:33.6-:09.3: Another screen-and-roll from Ariza on Fisher resulted in him and Bryant switching. Bryant forced Paul left, and Bryant and Gasol immediately met Paul with a double team. It appeared that Gasol was about to block Paul's shot, but at the last second, Paul threw a jump pass to Jack, whose seven-footer dropped in and extended the Hornets' lead to 90-86.
:09.3-:07.2: With Fisher throwing the inbounds pass, Bynum set a down screen for Bryant on Ariza, prompting Bryant to flash up to the top of the key. Meanwhile, Gasol cut right into the paint, with Aaron Gray offering little resistance. Gasol caught the inbounds pass and immediately dunked the ball, reducing the gap to 90-88 with 8.2 seconds remaining. Once Jack received the ball, Artest immediately fouled him. Jack made both free throws to give the Hornets a 92-88 edge with 7.2 seconds left.
:07.2-:00: On the inbounds pass, Bynum set a down screen for Bryant on Ariza, giving Bryant enough room to cut to the top of the key. Once he received a pass from Fisher, Bryant squared up and hoisted a 26-foot three-point attempt that hit back iron. Jack grabbed the rebound, Fisher fouled him and Jack hit one of two free throws, securing the Hornets' victory.
-- Mark Medina
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Upper photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has his shot blocked by New Orleans point guard Chris Paul, who was called for a foul on the play, during Game 4 on Sunday night. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Middle photo: The Hornets' Chris Paul looks to pass after running into the double-team defense of Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Lower photo: Paul is forced to pass by the defense of Kobe Bryant and Gasol in the final minute of the fourth quarter. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times