The Hornets beat the Thunder

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Published: March 8, 2009

Twas a strange yet successful night of basketball at the Arena. The Hornets were magnificent in the first and fourth quarters, and sucked mightily in between. So much so that we blew an early 13-point advantage and saw the Thunder briefly steal the lead in the third quarter. A big part of the letdown in the middle quarters was poor bench play, poor rebounding, and a drop in defensive intensity. Thankfully, Julian Wright, who started in place of the injured Peja Stojakovic, was able to give the Hornets the right spark to ignite a serious fourth-quarter run and turn the game into the blowout it was destined to be.

Bullets…

  • So JuJu was the big story tonight. He was nice all game, but really tore it up in the fourth, finishing with 20 points (8-of-10 FGs), 7 boards, 4 assists and 3 turnovers. He had a bunch of highlight reel plays, but his best moment came with about 7:30 left in the final frame (see below). Defensively he didn’t have many lapses, and his turnovers weren’t of the head-slapping variety. Seems it really helps him to be on the floor with the starters, and not his fellow reserves.
  • About that play by JuJu at the 7:30 mark in the fourth: After a turnover by Posey, a long outlet was thrown to Earl Watson, but JuJu chased him down and tipped the ball away. Unfortunately, it went right to Russel Westbrook who was right in stride for a layup. Somehow Wright managed to catch up to him too and block the shot, then dive out of bounds and save the ball back in to Chris Paul. CP then took off the other way and found Posey for a dagger triple. If Westbrook had made that layup, OKC would have cut our lead to single digits, but the swing put the Hornets up by 14 instead. Big play, and it set the crowd on fire.

  • The Hornets smacked OKC early with a 31-18 first quarter. We got out and ran a bit and held a 15-5 advantage on the boards. We also gave the Thunder very few looks inside, forcing them to settle for jumpers. That all changed in the second quarter. David West stayed in with the second unit but OKC doubled him every time he caught the ball. Nobody else could step up and score, resulting in just 8 points through the first 8:30 of the quarter. Even when Byron put our big guns back in, the suckage continued. Gone was the intensity of the first quarter. I’m not sure exactly how many points in the paint OKC got in Q2, but it was too many. They also held a 13-7 rebounding edge in the quarter.
  • Antonio Daniels had me cringing tonight. He got to the free throw line well, but that’s about the only good thing I can say about him. He got blocked on a weak one-handed drive at the end of the third quarter, just a few minutes after he got picked by Malik Rose outside the three-point line, resulting in an uncontested fast break layup. I’ve really soured on him over the past few months.
  • Paul and Chandler both battled foul trouble. CP had to sit out the last few minutes of the third after picking up his fourth. Tyson got three early in the first half and had to take a seat. Paul was magnificent anyways, finishing with 21 points (10-of-16 FGs), 13 assists, 6 boards, 6 steals and 5 turnovers. We had 27 fast break points in the game and it’s always entertaining to see Paul pushing it like that. He was able to get into the lane pretty easily, too, often finding himself with heaps of space and little help defense to challenge his shots.
  • Back to Tyson, and he’d finish with 12 points and 8 boards. He may have been a little too hyped up for this one, given that foul trouble and the technical he picked up late in the third.
  • Time for the rest of the NBA to recognize how good Rasual Butler has been this season. He’s upped his scoring every month, and overall he’s shooting 45.3 percent from the field, 42.6 percent from deep. In each of his last five games he’s scored no fewer than 16 points, pouring in 20 tonight. And we all know he’s no slouch defensively either. Everyone needs to recognize.
  • David West finished with 14 points (6-of-14 FGs), 12 boards and 3 assists. Him being the lumbering kind, he didn’t contribute much to all our fast break points (although he did through a beautiful outlet to Rasual in the first half), and, as mentioned, OKC didn’t give him much room to operate when he was our go-to guy early in the second quarter.
  • West got called for illegal defense twice tonight. We seem to be getting called for those a lot lately, so I went back and checked. Over our last eight games, we’ve been called for illegal D eleven times. David West has been responsible for six of those. Anyone feel like checking back through the whole season for every player in the league and seeing how the Hornets stack up? C’mon, what else are you gonna do tomorrow?
  • Some quick thoughts about some OKC guys: Westbrook is really nice. I don’t recall being all that impressed with him when the Thunder played the Hornets earlier this season, but now I’m convinced he’s got the makings of an All-Star, easy. Earl Watson also impressed me tonight, mostly because he finishes really well at the rim for a small guy. He can switch his shot in the air, absorb some contact and still get it to go. And then there’s Malik Rose. I realize he was getting big minutes because of OKC’s myriad of injuries, but man does he suck. The only good thing I can say about him is that he takes up a lot of space. Shame on Daniels for getting picked by that guy.
  • One thing that really frustrates me is when Paul is on the floor and someone else (usually Posey or Butler) brings the ball up the floor. When that happens, CP starts low, comes up off a pick and gets the hand off at the top of the arc. That puts us right where we would have been if Paul had taken the ball up himself, except now there’s ten seconds gone off the shot clock. It would be cool if we got something out of that move, but it really seems to serve no purpose.
  • Some numbers: We finished with a 44-28 advantage on the boards. We shot just 6-of-17 from downtown, but OKC were worse at 5-of-22 from distance. We had six guys score in double figures, all twelve guys in uniform played, only Bowen failed to score. We had 54 points in the paint, they had 36.
  • From the AP recap over at ESPN.com: Paul passed his head coach on the career assists list. Paul has 2,737, while Scott had 2,729 in his career.

I’m not sure what to make of Julian Wright after tonight’s game. I had started to believe that Byron was right in benching him a lot this season. I’d seen the kid make too many of the same dumb mistakes over and over again. I wasn’t sure if he had the maturity/intelligence to break out and become a real contributor. But then he goes off tonight and you can’t help but wonder why he can’t do that for us more often. Was tonight just an abberration, or was that a taste of what we’d be getting out of JuJu if only he’d be given more time to settle down out there. Let us know you thoughts in the comments.

Next up we’re off East on a four-game road trip. First stop Atlanta on Monday. Let’s keep this win streak going.

UPDATE: JuJu features three times in NBA TV’s Top 10 (via Hornets Hype):

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