Among the biggest reasons the Los Angeles Lakers fell behind in their playoff series against the New Orleans Hornets, 1-0, before evening it up Wednesday night is the sterling play of Chris Paul, New Orleans' All-Star point guard. In 41 minutes, Paul scored 33 points, handed out 14 assists, and turned the ball over just twice. It was almost as brilliant an offensive performance as a point guard can have, which led to the Game 1 upset.
Paul did most of his damage that night running pick-and-rolls from all over the court. According to the stat-tracking service Synergy Sports Technology, Paul orchestrated 19 pick-and-rolls which led directly to shot attempts or free throws. The Hornets scored on 13 of those 19 possessions for 27 points. Moreover, Paul played error-free here, as neither of his turnovers came when he ran the pick-and-roll.
But that dynamic changed drastically in Game 2, with the Lakers adjusting their defense to better account for Paul's penetration. Zach Lowe of The Point Forward, Sports Illustrated's NBA blog, already enumerated the specific changes the Lakers made to their defense, so I won't belabor that point. But it suffices to say they worked.
The Hornets ran two more pick-and-rolls in Game 2 than they did in Game 1, but enjoyed far less success. Those 21 pick-and-roll plays produced just 14 points, largely because--as Lowe expertly pointed out--the Lakers forced the ball out of Paul's hands and into those of his far less capable teammates. Paul finished with 20 points and 9 assists, so it's not as though the Lakers "shut him down" in the conventional sense. However, they marginalized his impact by making his teammates carry the offensive load. It didn't work.
The Hornets scored just three times out of the 13 pick-and-roll possessions when Paul gave the ball up, and their baskets weren't exactly impressive: Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor, two big men, made one jumper apiece, while Trevor Ariza converted a three-point play at the rim. That's all. As far as empty trips are concerned, Willie Green and Ariza led the Hornets with three apiece. Anytime a defense takes a shot away from Paul and lets a player of the Green/Ariza caliber shoot instead, it's doing its job.
Though it's only one game, the evidence from Game 2 strongly suggests the Lakers have a reasonable strategy for bottling Paul up in place. Whether or not they care to execute it remains to be seen, but their defensive performance that night has to give them some level of encouragement... though the two-time defending champs probably weren't sweating the 1-1 split anyway.