After the New Orleans Hornets stole the first game of their playoff series against the Lakers behind a masterful performance from Chris Paul, Los Angeles obviously needed to make some changes. In Game 2, the adjustment was to expend Kobe Bryant’s energy on the defensive end of the floor to slow down Paul, and to simply play the role of facilitator offensively.
In Game 3, the plan was for Bryant to play his game. Kobe scored 10 first-quarter points, on his way to 30, as the Lakers reclaimed home-court advantage with a 100-86 victory in New Orleans.
Bryant wasn’t forcing to get his buckets; all except maybe a couple of his four made 3-pointers came within the flow of the offense. And there were still plenty of shots available for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who enjoy even more of a size advantage against these Hornets than they do against most teams.
Bynum was once again dominant down low, at least early. He did the majority of his damage in the first half, where he scored all of his 14 points and grabbed nine of his 11 rebounds. He fell awkwardly in the second half and seemed to tweak that previously injured right knee, but he remained in the game and didn’t seem affected by it the rest of the night.
The reason for Bynum’s low productivity in the second half might have had something to do with Gasol finally finding his stroke, which he did after knocking down a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter that pushed Los Angeles’ lead from five to eight points. The unusual make from distance seemed to help Gasol regain some confidence offensively, while at the same time deflating his opponents.
Paul had a big, 18-point first half for New Orleans, but had just four points and five assists in the second. Maybe that was because the Hornets themselves finally were able to score inside, and were getting production from Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor, who combined for 38 points. And for all the talk of the Lakers’ size advantage — which is real — the rebounding margin was only plus-5 in L.A.’s favor, and the Hornets only scored six fewer points in the paint.
The difference, of course, was Bryant.
While the Hornets have one of the best point guards in the game in Paul, the talent drop-off from there is steep. As well as the Lakers played for most of the game, however, New Orleans battled and kept the deficit manageable. That’s a positive, of course, and everything changes if somehow the Hornets can duplicate their Game 1 effort on Sunday to even the series. But after seeing the last two games, the 2-1 lead the Lakers hold heading into Game 4 feels more like 3-0: Insurmountable.