For the third time in three games, Chris Paul looked like the best player on the court as his New Orleans Hornets tried to knock off the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. But for the second straight game in the series, Paul's excellence wasn't enough as Kobe Bryant and the Lakers left Game 3 on Friday with a 100-86 win.
Paul had 22 points on 9-13 shooting -- that's right, just 13 shots in 38 minutes, thanks to very attentive Lakers' defense -- and eight assists. He also had five turnovers; the biggest offensive problem for New Orleans was the lack of shooting efficiency elsewhere on the roster. Excepting Paul, the Hornets shot just 40.6 percent.
Bryant didn't have the same problem. While the one-time MVP racked up 30 points on 10-20 shooting, his teammates contributed mightily. Pau Gasol had a breakout performance, if a two-time NBA champion needs a breakout in the run for No. 3. After struggling mightily in the first two games of the series -- he'd averaged eight points and five rebounds while shooting a ghastly 21 percent -- he sprung for 17 on 7-13 shooting with 10 rebounds in Game 3. Gasol's success was a part of larger success for the entire Lakers' offense; L.A. overcame the Hornets' tough defense to shoot 48.7 percent from the floor; 14 offensive rebounds in 41 opportunities helped, too.
New Orleans' bench, so good in the Hornets' Game 1 win, struggled on Friday, with only Jason Smith making a decent push. Smith scored six on 3-3 shooting; the rest of the bench scored just three points in a combined 53 minutes, shooting 7.1 percent. (Yes, 7.1.) The Hornets struggled from behind the arc; after shooting 8-22 in the first two games of the series, New Orleans hit just two of 13 bombs. Marco Belinelli, the starting lineup's designated gunner, hit just 1-7 from long-range and is shooting 20 percent from long-range in the playoffs after hitting 41 percent during the regular season.
Game 4 is at New Orleans Arena on Sunday.