Lakers' 93-88 Game 4 loss to New Orleans Hornets feature plenty of lapses
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant shot Pau Gasol a laser-beam glare after Gasol fumbled a perfect pass placed at his chest. Lakers guard Derek Fisher shook his head after he lost control of the ball during a crossover, leading the Hornets to cash in on transition. And Hornets guard Chris Paul pumped his fist and yelled emphatically after nailing a late-game baseline jumper, just one example of how the Lakers had no answer for his triple-double with 27 points on seven-of-14 shooting, 15 assists and career-high 13 rebounds. He also made all 11 of his free throws when put at the line.
The Lakers could've featured a Hollywood ending, with Bryant making a game-winning shot moments after rolling his left ankle and initially refusing to sit out, helping take command of the series. But instead of pumping their chest much like Ron Artest did in reveling in the team's small highlight with 16 points on seven-of-10 shooting, the Lakers head back to Los Angeles with the series tied, 2-2, and all the same questions that plagued them after their Game 1 loss.
How can they stop Paul? Bryant jawing at him, the Lakers switching and certainly Andrew Bynum playing him one-on-one isn't going to solve that issue. The problem also extended to former Laker Trevor Ariza, whose 19 points on eight-of-17 shooting mostly came with easy drives to the basket and very little of the Lakers' front line stopping him from penetrating.
How can the Lakers get outrebounded, 39-32, go on a nearly three-quarter stretch without recording one offensive board and feature Gasol (16 points on six-of-11 shooting) and Bynum (11 points on three-of-eight shooting) having little involvement with the offense? Their 13 combined rebounds pointed to their lack of aggressiveness in matching up with an undersized New Orleans team. But their 19 combined field-goal attempts points to their teammates not properly looking for them.
How can Lamar Odom revert from regular-season consistency to postseason unreliability? For the third consecutive Sunday, Odom reserved his spotlight solely for the Khloe and Lamar reality show, while his production remained absent on the court with only six points on one-of-seven shooting. Connecting his playoff inconsistency to the show's airing is not only inconclusive, it's unfair. But the following conclusion isn't: After spending most of the season showing fans he's no longer the unpredictable underachiever he had been, he's offering doubt on whether he's really shaken that label.
And more importantly, how does Bryant end with zero points on zero-of-seven shooting in the first half and then suddenly springboard into 18 second-half points? Don't point to his seven assists in the first half as evidence that he just concentrated on facilitating because he also missed shots. It's maddening how an arthritic right index finger could prevent him from making first-half shots, but then his competitiveness to allow him to make 14 third-quarter points, including a sweep through in the lane that ended with a right hook, much to Magic Johnson's delight.
But there's nothing delightful about this game one bit. And the most visible reason points to when Bryant rolled his left ankle with 1:32 left in the game while chasing Willie Green on defense. Instead of reveling in the images of Bryant initially refusing to leave the court, coming back in and hitting a game-tying shot, the Lakers are left with Gasol dropping his pass, Bryant misfiring on an open three-pointer and the very strong possibility the injury could affect him in future games.
In typical Hollywood fashion, the Lakers just heightened the drama and made the stakes more exciting. But sometimes these scripts don't always work out the way the players want.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is forced into an awkward shot, and a miss, by Hornets defenders Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor during Game 4 on Sunday night at New Orleans Arena. Bryant did not score in the first half and finished with 17 points in the 93-88 loss. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / April 24, 2011