The Los Angeles Lakers tightened up their defense after a rough first quarter to beat the New Orleans Hornets running away Tuesday night in Los Angeles, 106-90.
A balanced Lakers attack, led by 19 points from Kobe Bryant were too much for the Hornets to handle, as the Lakers take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Trevor Ariza led the Hornets with 22 points, and Marco Belinelli added 21 points in his best game of the series.
The Hornets travel back to New Orleans to try and extend the series on Thursday night. The winner of the series plays the winner of the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Mavericks currently hold a 3-2 lead in that matchup.
Here are some things to take away from Game 5.
The Hornets came out red hot, shooting 80 percent in the first quarter. Chris Paul dished out eight assists in the quarter to lead New Orleans to a 32-23 lead. He would finish with 20 points and 12 assists. Bryant only attempted one shot in the quarter, but he was fouled. He made one of two free throws.
The Lakers turned it around in the second quarter, capitalizing on some misses and turnovers for the turnovers. They started the period on a 10-0 run to take a one-point lead, all with Kobe on the bench. Kobe came back into the game and took over.
A thunderous dunk over Emeka Okafor sparked Bryant. He scored 12 points in the quarter, showing no signs of an injured ankle. The Lakers were much better defensively in the second quarter, holding the Hornets to 19 points.
In the second half, the Lakers saw some points from other sources, including Ron Artest. Artest has been playing well this series. He has turned it around on the offensive end after seeing his shooting stroke leave him for spurts this season. They began to pull away from the Hornets, getting strings of defensive stops.
The Lakers really clamped down on defense for the entirety of the second half, and were opportunistic on offense. Kobe didn’t come in the game until halfway through the fourth quarter, but didn’t have to do much in the latter stages of the game.
He was taken back out with three minutes left, as the Lakers rolled to victory.
Pau Gasol’s stats have been on the rise as the series goes on, but his play hasn’t been impressive or game changing. Gasol is regularly catching the ball too far from the hoop. He’s allowing Okafor and Aaron Gray to keep him out of the paint.
On defense, Pau is getting toasted off the dribble by Carl Landry. Gasol has too good of footwork to allow Landry to make him look so bad. He needs to anticipate Landry’s moves better and shut down the young forward.
The Lakers can get by the Hornets without Gasol at his best, but the Mavericks and Blazers are much better teams. If Pau doesn’t get his act together, the Lakers aren’t the complete team they need to be for the three-peat
The Hornets seem to be a streaky shooting team. There are times when they’re all clicking, but other times it looks like Paul is alone out there. For the first time in the series, Belinelli found his shooting stroke. He’s the type of player to shoot regardless of the result.
The Hornets are a good defensive team, but are clearly the inferior offensive squad. In order to win the series, they need to shoot the ball well. Offensive rebounds are hard to come by against the Lakers because of their height.
The Lakers grabbed 15 offensive boards on Tuesday to only three for the Hornets.
Los Angeles finally found their groove on the defensive end in parts of Game 5. It started with Derek Fisher’s intensity guarding Paul.
He might not be the most disciplined defender in the world, but he’s always working hard out there. He seemed to frustrate Paul, who wasn’t scoring the ball as effectively as he was in the previous games.
The Lakers caused 17 turnovers this game, with 11 coming in the first half. They forced a combined 30 turnovers in their two previous wins of the series. In the Hornets two wins, they only committed 13 total turnovers. The Lakers were also challenging more shots in the paint.
Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Gasol all registered blocks in the contest.
With three minutes left in the second quarter, there was a questionable and-one given to Ariza on a Bryant foul. This set a fire in Kobe, who took the ball hard to the hoop on his next touch. Instead of little runner, he took off and dunked hard on Emeka Okafor.
An inspired Bryant controlled the game for the rest of the quarter. He had another huge dunk in the third quarter. Kobe seems to finally realize that his team needs him. He stepped up to the challenge, and the rest of the team responded strongly to their star's effort.
Although Gasol hasn’t been at his best close to the basket, the Lakers finally dominated their undersized opponents in the paint. The Lakers finished the game with 12 more points in the lane than the Hornets.
The Lakers guards were getting to the hoop on offense and crashing the boards on defense, which made all the difference. They already have the advantage in the frontcourt, and if their guards outwork the Hornets guards, they will win the series in six games.
More shots by Chris Paul
I know the Hornets shot the ball incredibly well in the first quarter, but Paul needs to shoot more for the Hornets to win. He needs to take over games and be the most dynamic player on the court for either team.
If the Hornets commit too many turnovers, the Lakers will have more possessions than they do. The Hornets cannot outscore the Lakers, especially if they have the ball less. The Lakers have many more weapons than the Hornets do, and they showed that in Game 5.
The Hornets aren’t going to win the battle down low. Honestly, their big men have done far better than many people expected. The Hornets need their perimeter players to torch the Lakers. That means Jarrett Jack and Paul need to take it to Fisher and Steve Blake.
They need to be the difference makers in Game 6 on both sides of the ball.
The Lakers players have a tendency to try to isolate and score in one-on-one situations. The Lakers are at their best when they’re spreading the floor. Kobe can isolate a few times in a game without issue, but it’s frustrating to see Artest do it more than once or twice.
The Lakers true advantage is inside, and they can exploit that by moving the ball around, trying to find lanes for entry passes.
The Lakers have such a substantial size advantage in the frontcourt. Not only that, they have the edge in athleticism thanks to Lamar Odom. In Game 5, they grabbed 15 offensive rebounds. That many second-chance opportunities for the Lakers makes them nearly unbeatable.
Don’t look ahead
A convincing win like this could cause most teams to look ahead to the next round. The Lakers have a tendency to let a series go longer than it should, as they’ve shown in the past against teams like the Houston Rockets.
They need to keep plugging away, and start out with the intensity they showed in the second quarter Tuesday night.
The Lakers finally played to their strengths in Game 5. They got the ball inside, played good team defense and caused turnovers.
The Lakers need to go to New Orleans and close the series out in six games if they want to rest up for the Mavericks or Blazers.
I think Kobe's going to go off for over 30 points and keep the Lakers ahead late, as Chris Paul fights hard to get the Hornets into Game 7. The Lakers defense will be too strong for the Hornets, and they will win Game 6 to advance to the next round.