Reporting from New Orleans
The season that won't stop teasing Lakers fans reached a new level — annoyance. And fear.
The Lakers and their alleged reputation — two-time defending champions, second-seeded team in the Western Conference — were scoffed at again by the New Orleans Hornets.
There was absolutely no trepidation as Chris Paul ripped through the Lakers in a 93-88 Hornets victory that evened the first-round playoff series at two games each Sunday night at New Orleans Arena.
Paul had 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds to become one of the few players ever to get a triple-double against the Lakers in 712 playoff games. Rajon Rondo had one last year.
It gets worse from there.
Kobe Bryant did one of the few interviews ever conducted in a trainer's room, sitting on a padded table after sustaining what the team officially called a sprained left ankle, though Bryant indicated it was more of a foot injury.
He was injured while defending Willie Green with 1:32 to play. He was moving across the lane when his foot buckled under him without any contact.
Two crutches were propped against the wall in the trainer's room. He then used them to leave the arena and board the team bus.
"It's going to take a lot to stop me to play," Bryant said. "We'll make sure we stay on top of it."
He said he would undergo treatment on the plane ride back to Los Angeles immediately after the game. The team was planning an MRI exam or X-rays as a precaution.
After getting hurt, Bryant walked stiffly around the court for a minute before giving Shannon Brown an "I'm good, I'm good" when the reserve guard approached him.
The Lakers might not be so good. At all.
Game 5 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday at Staples Center. Like it or not, the Lakers have to return here for Game 6 on Thursday.
They were thumped by the smaller Hornets, getting outrebounded, 39-32, and pummeled in second-chance points, 20-4.
"We got punked out there on the court tonight and gave them 20 second-chance points," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
Bryant had 17 points — none in the first half — on woeful five-for-18 shooting. He also had eight assists and six rebounds.
"Very uneven game," Jackson said. "Didn't score the first half. Didn't shoot well for the ballgame. Trevor [Ariza] did a great job on him."
It was a strange first half, with neither Bryant nor Paul scoring until Paul beat Bryant on a crossover with 1:04 left in the second quarter.
Bryant was 0 for 7 from the field by halftime, going scoreless in the first half of a playoff game for the first time since May 2004 against Minnesota.
Bryant didn't score until making a floater in the lane 2:32 into the third quarter.
The Lakers trailed at halftime, 49-45, after leading by nine in the first quarter.
The best scoring battle wasn't between Bryant and Paul (four points at the half), but between the guys who changed teams within an hour on that wild day in July 2009.
Ron Artest and Ariza each had 16 points in the first half. Artest didn't score in the second half. Ariza finished with 19 points.
Pau Gasol had another subpar game, scoring 16 points but taking only four rebounds in 36 minutes.
The Lakers' big men keep getting stuck on Paul after bad switches, center Andrew Bynum three times in the third quarter.
It was reminiscent of the Lakers' loss in Game 1 when they got caught with a big man on Paul eight times. (Quick reminder: They lost that game, 109-100.)
Late in the game, the Lakers were within two points and Paul was defended well by Bryant, but Paul found Jarrett Jack for a jumper in the lane as the shot clock expired with 9.3 seconds to play. The Hornets led, 90-86. It was Jack's first two points of the game.
New Orleans Coach Monty Williams tried just about everything before the game, even showing his players the "Battle at Kruger," a wildlife video on YouTube in which a young buffalo gets attacked by lions, falls into a watering hole, gets attacked by a crocodile, dragged back out of the water by the lions and eventually rescued by its buffalo herd.
"Don't give up, you know," Williams said. "The calf lived. It was getting attacked for three, four or five minutes and it lived."
So do the Hornets.