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Tale Of The Tape: Hornets Anchored By Chris Paul, Aided By Poor Lakers Defense

So a day after a dramatic performance at the Staples Center, what exactly happened for the New Orleans Hornets to shoot 52% from the field, shoot 33 free throws and dictate the tempo? Some of the issues are obvious, some not so much, so let's take look. Courtesy of the incredible Synergy Sports, I made these observations.

  • Chris Paul was incredible. 14 assists and 2 turnovers against one of the biggest frontlines in the NBA, and 33 points to boot. Enough has been said of the way he dominated the game.
  • There are two sides to a great performance though, and lazy Laker defense did plenty to give the LA did a good job switching, but did a terrible terrible job switching back. It wasn't like Paul was always making quick decisions with the ball--on many possessions after the pick and roll, he simply held it, held it, waited for the isolation to come, then took him off the dribble or buried a stepback shot with little pressure. No rotation for the Lakers when the situation was there for the movement simplified CP3's tasks and made it easier for him to operate and dictate the game on his terms.
  • That big that Paul punished the most was usually the hobo that was installed into the game that eerily resembled Pau Gasol. I like the Spaniard, but the man was dreaming of Elsyian Fields today. More on his putrid offensive performance later this week.
  • Andrew Bynum was much better defensively on Paul; he had some lapses, but he managed one blocked shot, bothered another, and hedged well enough to force the Hornets point to give the ball up.
  • Emeka Okafor posted up at least twice with no intention of receiving the ball to actually force Bynum under the basket and to prevent the ball-handler from worrying about his floater/runner from getting blocked.
  • Lamar Odom was somewhere in between--his length bothered the ball handler a few times, but sometimes he paid for overaggressive or underaggressive play. Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher all guarded Paul, with no real success attributable to any of them.
  • The Lakers sometimes gambled or made bad decisions defensively, which is peculiar because they generally don't need to gamble to stagnate an opposing offense. Bryant went for steals and block shots and left his man open for driving lanes. Shannon Brown ... well, ok, it's not unusual that Shannon Brown was making bad decisions defensively. Trey Johnson got stuffed on one pick and conceded too much space for a Jack open jumper on another.
  • The Lakers generally only give up about 57% of field goal attempts that are cuts to the basket, tops in the league. The Hornets converted six of seven, and there were errors abounding.
  • The Hornets ran great pick and roll offense almost the entire game. Even if it was an isolation shot, it came off of one, two, sometimes three picks. What makes the performance even more incredible is that most of the damage came from the ball handler, considering that dribble penetration is generally difficult against LA's frontline--the Lakers are 9th at P&R defense against the ball-handler, yet gave up 9 of 13 against the ball-handler (usually Paul or Jarrett Jack).
  • Take a look at all of these plays, broken down below. Here are my arbitrary stats by my personal count. Admittedly this is a small sample size, but these were the most successful plays of the day for the Hornets.
    CP3 is a god among men: 4 for 4
    Gambling defense: 4 for 4
    Lazy rotations: 2 for 2
    Poor defensive fundamentals: 3 for 3
    Good defense: 2 for 7

The Hornets were 6 of 7 on their cuts (Lakers were 1st in the league this year at defending cuts--57.3%)
Chris Paul makes floater/runner, Tied at 14, 4:37 in 1st quarter (gambling defense)
CP3 takes the ball down the left sideline, with Carl Landry coming up to set the pick. Lamar Odom switches onto Paul and has him now on the sideline and gives him trouble with his length. Landry cuts to the left block and Pau Gasol eventually picks him up. Fisher is stuck on Gray on the right block.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, Odom plays Paul too close, allowing him the ability to move off the ball. Paul executes a give and go with Landry by passing the ball around Odom's waist, getting it back, and finishing with an open floater in the lane.

Emeka Okafor dunk, NO 41, LAL 35, 5:15 in 2nd quarter
Same formula. Pick and roll, pick and roll. (lazy rotation)

Jarrett Jack guarded by Derek Fisher, Emeka Okafor comes out to set a pick. Gasol switches on Jack as he drives to the outside, and does a good job forcing him toward the baseline. He loses the ball on what looks like an Artest reach-in, but Jack eventually gets back the ball.

In the second or two available, none of the Lakers manage to rotate back onto their original man. Gasol stays on Jack, Odom remains on Landry ... and Fish guards no one (after he gets tripped up on the pick, he floats back on the play). Meanwhile, Okafor is wide open under the basket after his cut in one of the longest successful pick and roll plays in history. Jack directs himself toward the outside of Gasol's body before wrapping it around to the center.
Carl Landry AND-1 layup, NO 62, LAL 55, 6:30 in 3rd quarter (gambling defense)
Paul again runs pick and roll with Okafor on the strongside, but Bynum again does a great job picking him up. So he reverses the ball to the weakside to the right wing with Trevor Ariza. Kobe Bryant gambles for the steal again (something he's not that good at doing), giving up the drive from Ariza, who makes a pretty sweet pass between Ron Artest & Pau Gasol to Landry for a pretty automatic finish.

Carl Landry layup miss, NO 65, LAL 63, 3:15 in 3rd quarter (good D)
Paul again gets ready for the pick from Landry on the left wing, but Odom leaps over to trap and cut off the passing lane, and Paul has to keep the ball and start dribbling it to the left baseline. When Odom comes in to cut off the drive, Paul threads the needle to the driving Landry down the middle, but Gasol comes over from a great contest.  Best defense against a cut shown so far (and probably the rest of the game).

Aaron Gray layup, NO 71, LAL 68, 1:05 in 3rd quarter (CP3 is a god among men)
CP3 is conducting an orchestra and the Lakers are the captive audience.

Ron Artest is first on Paul, and Paul drives past him. Artest funnels him to Kobe Bryant, but Paul simply yo-yos it around the court before backing up to the top of the key. Aaron Gray comes back to set another pick, and the Lakers switch Gasol on Paul, Bryant on Gray.  Paul simply waits for the Hornets to clear out for a 1-4 isolation set, then drives past Gasol toward the basket when he gets his body turned toward the sideline.

Gray is nearest the basket on the opposite baseline. When Bryant comes over to try and block CP3's shot, Paul lays it off to Gray for the dish.

Willie Green layup, NO 79, LAL 74, 9:54 in 4th quarter (gambling defense)
Jarrett Jack takes the ball down the right sideline. Jason Smith comes over and picks Derek Fisher; Matt Barnes switches on Jack. Jack drives right past Barnes toward the baseline, and Odom comes over to provide the help.

But the issue comes on the weakside. Bynum comes over to provide additional help (or readies himself for a block shot) that probably isn't needed with the help Odom is showing to Barnes, so Shannon Brown leaves his man to take Brown's man. Green then makes a half circle from the corner Jack is driving from right down the middle of the paint. Jack dishes it to Green for another easy basket off a cut.

Jarrett Jack hook shot, NO 98, LAL 92, 2:24 in 4th quarter (good defense)
Paul again gets a pick from Gray from the right side at the top of the key, but Bynum and Fisher do a good job holding him to the left corner and cutting off driving lanes for Paul to get to the basket. Fisher sags off Paul for a second to watch the cutting Gray, but Odom is watching from behind to ensure Gray doesn't figure it out.

So again, just like Green, Jack curls from the opposite corner to receive the ball from Artest.

This is a tough shot for Jack though, but if Artest wasn't bothered by Jack's lateral quickness, Jack probably would have been stopped in his tracks and not allowed to drive much further and convert the shot. I'd give more credit to Jack for draining a tough shot like this one.

Hornets 9 of 13 on P&R ball handler (Lakers 9th at defending P&R ball handler--39.8%)
Chris Paul made layup; NO 6, LAL 2, 10:19 in 1st quarter
(gambling defense)
Chris Paul brings the ball up the court, but Pau Gasol commits way too early to trapping toward the sideline when Carl Landry comes up to set the pick on Derek Fisher. Paul drives right down the middle of the court. Emeka Okafor also does a good job to block out Andrew Bynum without committing a moving screen, giving Paul enough room to get up for a layup without getting blocked or stripped by Ron Artest leaking over from the right.

Chris Paul made layup, NO 10, LAL 4, 8:10 in 1st quarter (CP3 is a god among men)
Again coming up the court, Paul this time gets a double screen from Landry (to take Fisher out of the play) and Okafor. This time Gasol sags off to prevent the penetration, but Bynum doesn't step up enough to challenge Paul's shot either. Open jumper from the right elbow, although to be fair it's not an easy shot)

Chris Paul layup blocked by Andrew Bynum, NO 12, LAL 6, 7:44 in 1st quarter (good defense)
Okafor sets a pick and Bynum switches on Paul. Paul this time gets the drive, but Bynum with good contain to watch the jumper, then blocks the shot when Paul drives past him. One of the better efforts with the Lakers defending the man on the ball with a pick and roll.

Trevor Ariza missed jumper, NO 12, LAL 8, 7:10 in 1st quarter (good defense)
Ariza has the ball on the right elbow guarded by Kobe Bryant. Landry comes over to set a pick on Bryant's left. Bryant does a good job forcing Ariza to his right, into the help of Gasol. Gasol backs off and lets Ariza fire, which I'm sure the Lakers will take considering how poor a jump shooter Ariza is, particularly off his own dribble.

Jarrett Jack made jumper, start of 2nd quarter (poor defensive fundamentals)
Trey Johnson is guarding Jack but backing way off of him. Aaron Gray is at the high post but gives the ball back  to Jack. Johnson goes over the pick of Gray and Lamar Odom comes over to hedge, keeping his arms up to prevent Jack from rocking it over to the rolling Gray. Jack comes up and pulls up from the left angle and Johnson might have conceded too much space. Open look and two points for the Hornets.

Chris Paul made runner, NO 30, LAL 24, 10:28 in 2nd quarter (poor defensive fundamentals)
After Shannon Brown fights through one pick from Okafor, Brown gets his feet turned toward the sideline instead of keeping Paul in front of him. Paul crosses over to the basket and Brown is left trailing; Odom is getitng ready to trap at the top of the key and is out of the play. This is all on Shannon.

Again, Okafor does a good job pinning Bynum behind him in the paint to prevent him coming over for the block.

Jarrett Jack made jumper,  NO 37, LAL 30, 6:18 in 2nd quarter (poor defensive fundamentals)
Jack dribbles to his right as the Hornets center comes out ot contest. Trey Johnson runs right into the pick set by Okafor. Bynum doesn't have the lateral ability to step out to contest Jack's shot, but Johnson knows he'll have to fight harder through that because of who the big defender on the play is.

Chris Paul missed jumper, NO 55, LAL 54, 8:43 in 3rd quarter (good defense)
Okafor again comes over to set a pick from the right side and is able to bump Fisher off his coverage of Paul. Bynum does well do with contain, backing up but not conceding too much space to Paul, forcing a tough moving jumper. Bynum has acquitted himself well here.

Trevor Ariza missed jumper, NO 60, LAL 55, 7:27 in 3rd quarter (good defense)  
This is a late pick and roll after Paul can't set up any options. Ariza receives the ball at the top of the key, guarded by Bryant. Okafor comes over to set a pick from the right, with Bynum staying back. Ariza dribbles to the help and tries to get to the bucket, but Bynum retreats while forcing him down the lane and ensures a likely blocked shot when Ariza goes all the way. Ariza is forced to a difficult turnaround spin.

Chris Paul made runner, NO 69, LAL 66, 1:36 in 3rd quarter
(CP3 is a god among men)
Paul comes to the right elbow guarded by Fisher, Ariza comes to set the pick from Paul's left and Fisher's right. Paul executes a deadly killer crossover and drives with a clear path to the lane, as Bryant (Ariza's defender) doesn't switch, instead pointing to the big defender behind him (Gasol) to try and contest Paul at the basket. Gasol does his best, but Paul elevates the ball high and banks it in off glass.

Defense wasn't perfect, but this is really just a great play by CP3.

Jarrett Jack made runner, NO 77, LAL 74, 10:19 in 4th quarter (Lazy rotation)
Jack recieves the ball on a dribble handoff, while being guarded by Fisher. Jack gets moving before Aaron Gray comes to pick Fisher as Odom seems to trail a little too far behind Gray. Jack splits the double team and scores on a jumper on the run with a Bynum contest.

Willie Green made runner, NO 84, LAL 76, 8:45 in 4th quarter (Good defense)
Green one-ups Jack with an even more difficult runner.  Gray comes from the right and Bynum hedges toward the outside, opening up the driving lane inside. Bryant does gamble for the steal, but Green probably could have given that ball up to the open Jack waiting on the wing when Fisher tries coming in and defending him close up. Fisher does also reach for the ball, giving Green open space when he reaches up and connect. It's a great shot by Green though, and not the worst Laker defense.

Chris Paul made jumper, NO 94, LAL 87, 4:25 in 4th quarter
(CP3 is a god among men)
Paul is guarded now by Bryant, with Gray coming over to set the pick. Bryant switches on to Gray while Gasol is left guarding Paul. Whoops. Gasol shifts back to avoid dribble penetration and Paul buries the shot (and Gasol's corpse) on a stepback. Truly virtuoso performance from Paul, especially considering he had just isolated on Pau and already knocked down another jumper on the previous possession.


Great game for New Orleans. The big question is can they maintain this level of play when the Lakers inevitably wake up and start playing their brand of D? What will Paul does when the Lakers don't switch pick and rolls and play way off of him to avoid the drives altogether? Can he sustain that mid range game through the series? A lot of questions yet to be answered in what could be a surprisingly entertaining series.