The Hornets Bench Pressed the Nuggets
If someone had told you Paul was going to score 12, Posey was going to go 1-13, Rasual Butler was going to play only 17 minutes and score 2 points, and that Julian Wright, replacing David West, was going to score 4 points . . . and we’d win, I’d call you a liar. Or a drunk. Or a drunken liar.
It was a hard-fought game with weird line-ups, strange calls, unlikely heroes and two teams that were perfectly happy to smack the crap out of each other. The normally thin Hornets bench went 6 deep and produced 42 points, while the Nuggets only went three deep into their bench while the game mattered, and got 13 from their reserves.
Let’s start off this recap with two bullets I’d never, ever, ever thought I’d type:
- I said two of our shooters had to be on fire for us to win tonight, but Devin Brown was simply not whom I had in mind. In fact, I had firmly believed that the words Shooter and Brown could only be combined with other words like “Terrible”, “Please stop trying to be a ” and “Mixed Drink”. I cringed in the first quarter when the entire Denver Nuggets team backed up when he caught the ball at the three point line. He looked for a pass, faked a shot, and when no one came to get him, almost shrugged his shoulders and coldly drilled a set-shot three pointer. Two more followed in the fourth, along with a vicious long two in transition. He also played his usual pinball-style of basketball, getting in amongst the trees, ricocheting around, and either coming back out with a foul, turnover, or bruising offensive rebound. Ugly, but effective.
- Sean Marks was a beast off the bench. He made Nene work like a dog, crashed the boards hard, and played skillful, intelligent basketball. He found open space on the baseline for dunks, set hard picks and didn’t slip them too early like he usually does, and generally got after it. 1 foul. Good on ya, Marks.
- With those out of the way, I now have to salute Peja Stojakovic for coming up big when we needed him. 26 points on 14 shots. Five rebounds and three assists, and the only three pointers he took were off of broken plays where the ball eventually found him in the corner. Denver was running him off that three point line all night – so Peja simply adapted, flashing off down screens for curls, or posting up JR Smith and Anthony Carter, allowing him to turn, face, fire, and hit. I don’t even think he drew iron on any of his ten makes.
- Paul had an off night. Dahntay Jones and Billups did just the right amount of muscling Paul to keep him from getting a rhythm offensively. Even when he did break into the paint, he was almost always coming off a hard bump, or had been forced to fight around a hard-showing big man. As a result, his usual explosion to the hoop was delayed just a half second and the help defense was able to close and contest enough he missed some shots he usually makes. That said, there are about 25-26 teams in the league who would happily take 12 points, 10 assists, and 4 steals from their point guard. The Hornets get that on an OFF night.
- Okay, I was all set to kill Posey here for his 1-13 shooting, including 0-6 from three, but I started to watch him off the ball in the third and fourth, and he was working Kleiza and JR Smith over all game. He was beaten by both of those guys when he was left on an island a few times, but before the ball reached either of them, he delivered a myraid of bumps, hits, slaps, trips and grabs. He also got on the floor twice for big turnovers and seized nine rebounds. So bad shooting aside, it is really no wonder he had the best +/- of the entire team, going +19 in his 36 minutes.
- Julian really is a bit of a mess. He pressed offensively, passed up some open shots, and was so-so on the defensive end. When he was able to lock on to a guy defensively, he was good, but finding his guy in transition and rotations? Not his strong suit.
- In the third there was a stretch of the game where Hilton Armstrong seemed to be running the team. He directed the offensive sets, delivered passes exactly where they should go, and made great decisions with the ball when no good options seemed to develop. Of course, he sandwiched that good stretch with some stretches of futility and turnovers, but if he can do that more often(and rebound), he’ll develop into a solid back up.
- Ryan Bowen played seven minutes. He didn’t produce much, but he harassed Denver and put pressure on them, and it did make a difference. I was pleased.
- Mo Pete got hurt. I’m sad. Too many walking wounded.
- Butler didn’t play many minutes due to foul trouble, but he and Brown made Chauncey Billups life difficult. Billups makes a living by being a bull going to the rim, hitting transition threes, and drawing fouls with slick head fakes. Neither of those guys bought a single one of his attempts to draw fouls and they consistently found him in transition, limiting him to only one really open look from three in transition. Excellent job.
- JR is still such a mixed bag. The guy can probe a defense and drive with the best of them, but he’s got an Allen Iverson type of mentality. He’s not ever going to pass unless he’s in the paint rim and can clearly see a guy to dump the ball off to for a dunk. Otherwise, he’s firing a shot off, no matter how ill-advised. So he can be effective on the rare nights he’s on fire, but he can also kill a team’s ability to get an offense working at the same time. Tonight? JR had 20 points, but it also took him 17 shots and he had four turnovers. Oh, and Peja and Posey can thank him for about 5 easy looks each.
- I think the Denver broadcast is a riot. The game appears to be on about a half-second delay behind the sound, so that the play-by-play guy would call dunks, makes and steals out as they were happening – and a lot of times, before they had happened. Either that, or they have mystical foresight. Despite the gimmick, they remain one of my favorite announcing teams despite the fact they kill Paul for using his forearm on drives, and remain oblivious to Chauncey Billups using that same move all the time.
To cap it all off, I want to say one thing. I’ve probably enjoyed these past four games more than all but a couple other games we’ve played this year. Why? Because the reserves come out and play with energy and fire. No, they clearly don’t have the skills of David West or the athleticism of Chandler, but when our back-ups hit the floor, they leave it all out there. Yes, we need David West, and we need Chandler, but if those two guys don’t come back and do the same, giving it their all, I’m all for Byron yanking them and delivering a message. As many times as it takes. If West and Chandler get revved and come back firing on all cylinders and our bench brigade of Armstrong-Wright-Bowen-Posey-Daniels keeps playing like they are now, the Hornets will be back in the discussion as a Finals contender where they belong.