NEW ORLEANS -- Chris Paul relishes playing host to his NBA friends when they come to New Orleans. The motto for his downtown condo overlooking the Mississippi River is typically "Mi casa es su casa" as several of his NBA buddies have stayed at Paul's place when they've come to town.
I don't anticipate Kobe Bryant will accept an invite, nor will Paul leave the light on for Bryant.
Paul played his guts out in the Hornets' 93-88 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers to improbably even their series 2-2 on Sunday night. Paul's triple-double performance was only part of the brilliance. It's the energy it took away from Bryant as he defended Paul during the first half that served as an additional dagger.
To put Paul's game into perspective, Paul's 27-point, 15-assist, 13-rebound performance hasn't been achieved in the postseason in the past 20 seasons. In fact, it's only been topped once in the past 18 seasons as a whole when LeBron James had 43 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds against Denver on Feb. 18, 2010.
"Chris Paul, that was one of the better performances I've ever seen in the playoffs," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "A lot of guys have performances where they score. He scored. He dished it out. He rebounded. He made tough, tenacious plays."
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Paul's response to his performance was more simple and playful.
"It was cool. Fun," Paul said.
The Lakers had to do something different after Paul shredded Derek Fisher in Game 1. So Los Angeles made the switch to have Bryant defend Paul. It slowed Paul down in Games 2 and 3, but it caught up with Bryant in Game 4.
Fisher opened the second half defending Paul, and the Hornets guard promptly hit a 3-pointer. The Lakers were willing to sacrifice the matchup to bring Bryant's blood pressure down after a first half to forget. Bryant went scoreless in the first half; he went 0 of 7 from the floor and missed his lone free-throw attempt. It's the first time he has experienced that in the postseason since 2005.
"I don't want to get into the Lakers' thinking. I know it's got to be hard to guard Chris and then be expected to score 30 points," Williams said. "Now if there's anyone who can do it, it's Kobe."
Not Sunday night.
It wasn't just playing defense on Paul that obviously rattled Bryant. Paul's bulldog mentality took Bryant out of any kind of rhythm in the first half.
"I'd hit my mama, too, if she was on the court," Paul said during his on-court TNT postgame interview.
Paul the Menace had already drawn a technical foul in the second quarter when he blew by Bryant off the dribble for a layup. Paul's choice words for Bryant after the layup drew the ire of the officials for the technical foul. Then you knew once the outlet pass flew to Bryant later in the first half and you saw Paul go step for step with Bryant that Paul wasn't going to play nice. Paul hammered Bryant on the layup attempt and threw his arms up in the air to plead his flagrant-foul innocence.
"[Getting Bryant flustered] is not by design. It's just who I am," Paul said. "I'm not into those get-under-your-skin games. People probably try to do that with me at times. With Kobe, he's seen it all. He's seen guys try to get him ejected and stuff like that. I'm just being me."
Paul also pestered Bynum a couple of times in the second half. Paul dribbled Bynum in circles late in the third quarter to hit a jumper. Then Bynum had Paul posted up on the block and Paul altered an otherwise easy layup attempt for Bynum, forcing the Lakers' big man to miss the shot.
In a weird way, you could almost see that Bryant could appreciate Paul's vigor during Bryant's postgame interview.
"You're dealing with one of the best point guards in this game. ... He's going to have games like this where he controls the ball the majority of the game. ... He's like any great player," Bryant said. "Once he gets going and on a roll it's tough to contain him. He was just all over the place tonight.
"That's just a bad little dude."
Bryant ended up with 17 second-half points, not coincidently after he quit defending Paul. But the most concerning point occurred in the fourth quarter, when he injured his left foot and left the game temporarily. He walked out of the locker room on crutches and said he'll have treatment on the flight home.
"It's going to take a lot to stop me to play [in Game 5]," Bryant said.
Paul's been through his fair share of ailments the past two seasons, too. Paul didn't want to call this series a re-establishment of Paul as the best point guard in the NBA. It might happen anyway, thought.
"When you get to the playoffs, no one feels sorry for you," Paul said. "Nobody. They don't care what's wrong with your ankle or what's wrong with your knee or anything like that. This is where players are made. I just looked at it as a great opportunity as a team to forget about the rest of the season and seize the moment. ... I play with a chip on my shoulder every day. I'm not trying to go out and make a statement."
Here's the real statement: No one thought this series would be tied up 2-2. And if we see the same Paul the rest of the series or Bryant less than 100 percent, we might be reading some other unfathomable statements. Like one of the biggest upsets in playoff history.