NBA Playoffs: Chris Paul goes cold, Lakers go on better for effort

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For five games, Chris Paul was playing like the best point guard in the game. He had played two super-human games to earn New Orleans two wins against the defending champions, and even in the losses he had been special.

The Hornets needed him to do that. He was their only hope.

And when he crashed back to earth in Game 6 — in part due to good Lakers defense, in part he had an off night and in part because he was passive — the Hornets were totally outmatched. Especially on a night where the Lakers big center Andrew Bynum asserted himself.

The result was the Lakers cruising to a 98-80 win. With the victory the Lakers advance to the second round, where they will face the winner of the Portland/Dallas series.

This series was not easy for the Lakers, but they may be the better for it in the end. They came into this series playing lazy from the end of the season and carried it over to Game 1. By Game 6 the Lakers had found the defensive groove that had them winning 17-of-18 for a stretch in March and looking like contenders.

Paul finished with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting, plus he dished out 11 assists. But when faced with another night of good interior defense from the Lakers he became passive. That has been the knock on him in recent years, in part that was caused by injuries. But there seemed to be a frustration to, a realization that for all he could do — as much as he looked and played like the vintage Chris Paul in this series — his team was overmatched.

Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum had 18 points and 12 rebounds — 8 of them on offense. More importantly he and Pau Gasol (each with two blocks) took control of the paint, cutting of drives and turning the Hornets into jump shooters.

The Hornets two easily settled for those jumpers rather than driving into the lane, they aren’t that good at hitting those midrange shots and as a result in the second and third quarter the Lakers started to pull away.

This was by no means a pretty game. The first quarter was filled with ugly offense. Good defense was part of it, but there was just some bad offense too. No motion, missed shots. The Lakers adjusted some but even at the half the score was 40-34 Lakers.

The Lakers move on, but like we said they exit this series better than they came into it. CP3’s play and the heart of the Hornets, their hard effort, forced the Lakers to play closer to their potential. The problem for New Orleans really was that once the Lakers woke up they were going to be out matched.

For the Hornets, seemingly countless questions lie ahead.

Starting with, who will own the team? Can the NBA — which has boosted local sponsorship and increased season tickets while working to get a better lease deal — find local ownership? New Orleans has not been an easy NBA market in the best of times.

Then there is the Chris Paul question. He can leave in the summer of 2012, next season he could put the Hornets in the position the Nuggets were in with Carmelo Anthony this season. Is he frustrated enough with the situation, does he see so little hope that he could try to force his way out? How will the lockout and the new collective bargaining agreement impact all of that?

There are hard questions ahead for the Hornets. But one thing was clear as the fans in New Orleans rained down a “thank you Hornets” chant on their team at the end of that game — New Orleans has some passionate fans that love that team.

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — 11 of them in the first half. Houston was up 17 in the first quarter and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.

Warriors’ Andre Iguodala out for Game 6

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Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.

With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).

Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.

The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.

However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.

And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.