Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Hornets - Game Four

NBA Playoffs: Chris Paul is beating the Lakers


Bask in the glory that is Chris Paul.

We as basketball fans need to step back and revel in great games and great players, and Chris Paul is one and did that. He was dominant Sunday night, he was the reason the Hornets won 93-88 to even the series.

He put up 23 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds — in the second half. For the game it was 27 points 15 assists and 13 rebounds. He was draining corner threes, driving the lane and when the defense collapsed was willing to pass to Jarrett Jack — who didn’t have a bucket on the night before that — to hit the dagger with 9 seconds left. Paul was brilliant late in the game in a “how high can he go on the all time point guard list?” kind of way. Paul was embarrassing Derek Fisher with steals and slashing to the rim as well as anyone in the league.

It’s not going to matter, the Hornets are likely going to still lose this series. Seriously. Maybe in six games. That doesn’t take away from what Chris Paul did.

If you’re questioning the Lakers chances, remember that you were questioning them a year ago, too, when a young Oklahoma City team tied them at 2-2 in the first round. We remember how that ended.

These Lakers still have the ultimate advantage — they have size and skill up front. It’s just that Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom combined to shoot 10-of-26 on the night and missed key shots and chances down the stretch. The Lakers have an advantage that they just simply did not use well.

Look at it this way: Chris Paul had as many rebounds as Gasol and Odom combined (thanks to ESPN’s Land o’ Lakers). That is 6’0” point guard Chris Paul. A little shrub among the trees. Yet het got the ball. That should say all you need to know about the effort and play of the Lakers front line.

And we know they are fully capable of putting together back-to-back games the Hornets cannot match.

But CP3 might come close. He has flat out been the best player in the series. But not in the first half of this game.

It was actually a pretty offensively efficient half for one where Kobe Bryant didn’t score and Chris Paul had just four points. It was the shootout we all expected — Ron Artest vs. Trevor Ariza. Both had 16 first half points. The really the big shock was the Hornets had controlled the boards and that combined with some penetration in the second quarter had them controlling the paint on the taller Lakers.

That trend continued, the Hornets controlled the boards all night.

Kobe had 14 points in the third quarter. That’s when Chris Paul reached his triple double. And you had the feeling these two might start to really go at it.

Even with all of Paul’s brilliance, the Lakers had their chances

But while Kobe was good, Paul was brilliant. Runners, jumpers, threes, he was hitting them all. More important was the 15 assists as he got his teammates involved.

He will need to have two more games like this for the Hornets to have any chance. But really, it’s about the Lakers big men. No matter how bad Kobe’s ankle hurts (he twisted it in the fourth quarter but stayed in the game) the big men are the key. They did not shine tonight. Paul did.

And that’s why the series is tied.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at NBA.com.

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.