The Hornets beat the Cavs

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Published: December 30, 2007

Coming into the game yesterday, the Hornets had a nice-but-flawed winning streak going on. Sure, we'd won four straight by an average of 20 points, but those opponents had the combined winning percentage of Tim Floyd: NBA Edition.

Then along came the Cleveland Cavaliers. True, they've got a losing record, too, but they had just got done beating the Mavs in Dallas on Thursday, and they're one of the few teams to have beaten the Celtics this season. Oh, and they have that LeBron James guy, who's so damn popular that the Arena was packed and the Hornets got their first sellout of the season.

Twas nice to have that full house, because a lot of people saw the Hornets kick ass and legitimize that win streak.

Here's how it all went down…

Chris Paul, everybody. Everybody, Chris Paul.

Pregame

Outside the Arena is busy like there's a BuzzFest going on, except there's no BuzzFest going on. A lot of folks are here to see LeBron, and a lot of folks are trying to buy tickets at the last minute.

I get to my seat about a half hour before the tip, and keep an eye on the warm-ups. Julian Wright is casually shooting 20-footers, mostly from the baseline. He launches a couple dozen and makes about 70% of them. A few minutes later, the Hornets run in a few, and there's a half-assed dunk-off between Morris Peterson and Marcus Vinicius. A two-handed 360 by the Brazilian ends it.

Getting closer to game time, and some preacher dude takes center court and says a prayer. "Thank you Lord that the Hornets shall win this game tonight." Excellent: we've got god on our side for this one. Next up, Irvin Mayfield busts the national anthem out of a trumpet and the crowd loves it.

The players get intro'd, the crowd gets loud, and we're about ready to tip. Cleveland's Drew Gooden takes a minute to dance around the court, like he just watched The Cable Guy or something. Weird routine.

Game on.

First Quarter

We've got our funky five out to start. The Cavs jump with Larry Hughes at the point, LeBron and Sasha Pavlovic on the wings, Gooden at the four, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas plugging the middle. Peja picks up LeBron early, which seems strange. While I think people underestimate Peja's defense, I still expected Peterson to get that assignment tonight.

Big Z gets the scoring under way with a 17 footer, and with that shooting stroke he might drag Tyson away from the basket a lot tonight. Peja gets the first couple buckets for the Hornets, both from deep.

6:33 – Hughes has been defending Chris Paul, and our quarterback has looked passive so far. But scratch that after CP steals one and breaks for layup. 10-6 Hornets.

4:50 – West and Chandler finish a couple easy ones, it's 14-10 Hornets, and the Cavs take a timeout. LeBron has been invisible so far. One shot, no points. The Hornets are playing simple basketball, feeding it low as the first option, letting the bigs go to work. Failing that it's kick it back out, screen for CP up top and see what happens. The Cavs, meanwhile, have gotten all their points from Ilgauskas and Gooden.

Out of the timeout, the Cavs get it to LeBron in the post against Peja, so Tyson helps out with an aggressive double team. Effective, but West gets called for illegal D on the rotation. A few seconds later, there's no help and LeBron blows right by Peja for the layup.

2:40 – West blocks a jumper by Gooden out of bounds, we're up 20-14, and Byron takes a timeout. The defense has been solid for the Hornets so far, but the Cavs are really looking flat out there. Nobody's attacking, and they only have one assist on their seven field goals.

1:24 – Hilton Armstrong and Rasual Butler, both only in the game a couple minutes, double up on LeBron and force a turnover. Nice work. At the other end, West gets aggressive in the post, jumps into the lane and drops a jump hook over Varejao.

0:46 – Chris gets a steal on the baseline, and somehow makes it to the other end of the floor before everyone else. A trailing LeBron James swoops in though to pin CP's layup against the backboard. Looked clean, but the refs call a goaltend.

26-18 Hornets after one.

Second Quarter

Byron starts the second with the usual five: Pargo, Jackson, Wright, Butler and Hilton. The Cavs go with Daniel Gibson, Pavlovic, Varejao, Ilgauskas and our old buddy Devin Brown. Hilton starts the action with an airball from 13 feet.

8:45 – Z scores his third straight bucket against Hilton, giving him 12 points already. The young fella hasn't played horrible defense, but that Lithuanian's a crafty vet. Byron's seen enough and gets Tyson back out there. Ilgauskas will score just two more points tonight.

7:26 – West comes back in the game and goes right at Varejao again. It's like he hates that dude. The Brazilian fouls him and West sinks two. 34-30 Hornets.

6:40 – LeBron's back in the game, too. He still hasn't done anything superhuman, but the Hornets have to keep some bodies nearby whenever he gets the ball. This trip, that results in James finding a wide open Gibson cross court for a three-ball.

5:13 – A Peja bucket off a feed from Tyson, then vice versa, puts the Hornets up five and Cavs' head coach Mike Brown needs another timeout to figure out why his team is so sluggish right now. Que the Honeybees for the first time tonight, then frisbees are tossed into the crowd. There's free pizza if you grab one, and a wide dude in my section almost kills seven people to get that free meal.

Out of the timeout, Peja comes up with a real nice steal, tipping a pass then diving to save it from out of bounds. Twenty seconds later, he finds Mo-Pete at the other end for a triple. 41-33 Hornets.

2:06 – The Cavs get three chances thanks to their offensive boards, but the can't finish any of them. After that, Cleveland's got a 21-14 advantage on the boards. Last few trips, LeBron has been looking to take control but his shots aren't dropping and he can't get to the rim. He's got just five points.

0:05 – After LeBron splits a pair of free throws, Chris zips down the floor but gets his runner blocked by Gooden to end the half. We're still up, 46-42.

Mo-Pete chases LeBron, who sweats pure whiskey

Halftime Thoughts

  • The Cavs, as a team, must have the worst hair in the League. Varejao looks like a tropical shrub, Drew Gooden's growing an afro at the wrong end of his head, and Pavlovic may not have any body hair at all. Actually, same goes for Ilgauskas. Those last two together look a lot like this.
  • I'm loving West's aggressiveness lately. There hasn't been much hesitation from him the past few games. Usually he can't make up his mind whether to settle for the jumper or take it to the hoop, but recently he just seems intent on doing the latter and it's really working for him.
  • If Daniel Gibson is on defense and goes to double team somebody, would that be considered a Boobie Trap?
  • The halftime show is some dude named Christopher, who has four life-sized puppets attached to him and does a one-man village people thing. Amusing. I wonder how much these halftime acts get paid.
  • I go rambling and talk to some people. Rumor has it that LeBron and some of his teammates hit Bourbon Street last night, and that might explain their shitty play so far. It makes even more sense when I find out that both LeBron and Devin Brown have birthdays today.

Third Quarter

Starters all back in, and Peterson has switched to cover LeBron.

9:53 – Chris misses a wide open layup but Tyson tips it home to make it a 10-point game. Timeout Cleveland. They're getting nothing easy on offense, while the Hornets are making nice cuts and carving up the Cavs D.

Out of the timeout, the Hornets force a shot clock violation, and the Cavs really do look hungover right now.

7:48 – After some pick and rollness, CP ends up being guarded by Drew Gooden. Chris almost always pulls up for a jumper when he's got a big man on him like this, and now is no different as he drains a 20-footer. Make it a 12-0 Hornets run. At the other end, Gooden hooks one to give the Cavaliers their first bucket of the half.

6:06 – Chris dives into the lane, then whips one to Mo-Pete for a corner three. 63-49 Hornets. At the other end, LeBron drives hard and gets the foul on Peterson. He's starting to look more aggressive now. He's cutting harder the last few trips, and looking to get to the rim.

4:45 – Tyson does real good to tip a rebound back out and give the Hornets a fresh 24. Reset, feed it to West, and he drains a fade-away over Gooden on the baseline. We're now up 16, but the crowd seems about as enthusiastic as the Cavs tonight. Maybe most people were hoping to see LeBron put on a show. Whatever it is, the atmosphere so far pales in comparison to the Suns game two weeks ago.

3:51 – West answers a bucket by Gooden with one of those trademark top of the key jumpers off a drop back from CP. I see West now has 19 points and 9 rebounds. It's 67-51 Hornets, and the Cavs need another timeout. Rob Nice takes the opportunity to get the crowd pumped up. Thanks, dude. I'm not sure everyone knew the Hornets were the home team.

2:53 – Same score, Hornets timeout, and the crowd gets even happier when the big screen shows the Giants are beating the Patriots. Double that volume when they show PJ Brown is in the house. Dude almost gets a standing ovation, and deservedly so. Class act.

Out of the timeout, LeBron goes across the lane and fires up a fade-away over a tight double team. Not sure that's what Mike Brown drew up in the huddle.

0:40 – Another pick and roll, another big man ends up guarding CP out high. Varejao this time. Guess what's coming? Damn right. CP nails the jumper.

A stop later and it's deja vu. CP vs Varejao for the last play of the quarter. CP settles for the jumper again, but Varejao plays him tighter and CP can't make it go.

71-57 at the end of three, and the Hornets deserve credit for a great quarter. The outscored the Cavs 25-15 in that one.

Fourth Quarter

The Cavs are still deep in discussion at their bench as the final stanza gets ready to be written. Tyson and Chris chill, both sitting on the scorers table. They seem to know how this one is going to end. Meanwhile, this crowd has definitely woken up. Welcome to the Jungle blares, everyone's on their feet, and the Arena finally feels alive.

10:11 – LeBron shakes loose of Mo-Pete, and takes it right to the rack for a slam that will be the game's prime highlight on Sportscenter later. There's some oohs from the crowd, and West casually drains a 16-footer at the other end. That's also worth two points.

8:49 – Chris crosses Larry Hughes up something awful, then finds Bobby Jackson for a deep two. A rugged stop later, and West gets fouled trying to finish the break. The Hornets defense remains relentless, and we're up 21 after West cans some freebies.

7:02 – LeBron drives hard, but Rasual gets his hand in there and forces a jump ball. Looked like this. Cavs win the leap, and LeBron settles for a three this time. Count it.

5:26 – LeBron scores inside to end a scrambled Cavs' offense. Bobby Jackson and David West take turns misfiring, then LeBron blows by Peja at the other end. Peja catches up enough to commit a smart foul before James can get a shot off. Timeout Hornets. The Cavs just reeled off 9 straight, the lead is down to 12, and we need to regroup.

Out of the timeout, Peterson is back on LeBron, and Peja lends a hand to force a deep three from James. Not a chance.

4:36 – Chris takes one away from Ilgauskas down low, and Z fouls him in frustration. Other end, and CP shakes Drew Gooden inside out before getting fouled again. Two free throws and the lead is back up to 14.

3:58 – Some great D by Mo-Pete leads to a steal that's credited to Chris Paul. Peterson was guarding LeBron on the wing, got caught on a switch with Tyson when Ilgauskas set a pick, and ended up under the basket trying to deny a pass to Z. Then he sprints out high to switch back on LeBron, but Tyson doesn't catch on quick enough. Realizing Z is now wide open under the basket, Mo-Pete turns and dives back down the lane to get a hand on the feed from LeBron. Hornets ball.

2:29 – A couple of offensive rebounds are big for the Hornets. We've got a 12-point lead, and the clock is now our friend. Chris holds the ball out high and gestures for the crowd to get into it. Everyone's on their feet by the time Tyson commits the foul while setting the pick for CP.

The Cavs come down and take a timeout, and some folks are already heading for the exits.

1:30 – Out of the timeout, the Cavs end up with an awkward-looking leaning hook type thing from Ilgauskas. Tyson gets the rebound and CP finds West for the dagger at the other end. 86-72, and this one's no longer in doubt.

Four late points from Gibson makes the final score 86-76. The crowd shows its appreciation as the Hornets leave the floor.

David West with two of many

Postgame Thoughts

Cleveland really didn't bring it tonight, but credit the Hornets with a solid performance. The bench didn't see a lot of minutes, but all the starters made significant contributions. David West came up big with 27 points and 15 rebounds. He's playing with a lot of confidence right now and I'm loving it. Tyson got his double-double in the end, finishing with 11 points and 12 boards. Peja and Mo-Pete both struggled shooting again (a combined 7-of-22 on FGs), but between them they did a heck of a job defending LeBron, who finished with 21 points on 8-of-21 shooting.

Oh, and Chris Paul? Here was me thinking he had a pretty quiet game, then I see his line: 20 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 7 steals and 3 turnovers. Sicker than a small hospital.

Let's get some linkage out here: game recap | box | standings

So there's the Hornets 30 games deep in the season and sporting a 20-10 record. Can we get some attention over here please? Does nobody realize that we have the fifth best record in the NBA right now? Yeah, fifth! As in, there's only four teams in the whole League with a better record, and everyone else has, like, a worse record.

And correct me if I'm wrong, but methinks the Hornets have never won 20 of their first 30 before. Makes my brain a happy place.

Next up, we've got the Raptors in town tomorrow evening. Six wins to end the year would be real nice.

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