Thornton shines as Hornets beat Pacers

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Published: October 18, 2009

The Hornets got their second preseason win in six tries last night, knocking off the Indiana Pacers 108-96 at the New Orleans Arena ( box | recap ).

Marcus Thornton attacks the basket vs. the PacersRookie Marcus Thornton was the big story. He got his second consecutive start, played 34 minutes and chipped in 19 points (7-17 FGs), 7 rebounds and 2 assists. But the numbers don’t really tell it. This was my first time seeing Thornton play, and I came away extremely impressed. He’s very decisive with the ball, able to catch on the move and dive right to the hoop, absorb serious contact and still get a shot up. He’s never afraid to attack the basket, even taking it one-on-two or one-on-three a couple of times on the break. He was able to finish the play or get to the free throw line far more often than he got stripped or blocked. He was also relentless crashing the boards on both ends last night, causing some havoc for the Pacers. His motor was always running.

Of course, this was just one game so it’s best not to get too high on the Hornets second-round draft pick just yet. The Pacers are not exactly known for their defensive efforts, as evidenced by the 110ppg they’re giving up in the preseason. Plus, the jury is still out on Thornton’s own defensive abilities. He seems to have the energy and willingness at that end of the floor, but when he’s guarding the likes of Brandon Rush and Luther Head, it’s hard to know if he’s for real.

That said, I can see Thornton becoming an important part of the rotation this season. If he can keep the long bombs dropping (9-21 3FGs in the preseason), while also being that slashing wing the Hornets so desperately lacked a year ago, he’s a much better option at 2-guard than Morris Peterson or Devin Brown. At least offensively.

Other notes from the game:

  • Chris Paul shot poorly, while David West had trouble with Troy Murphy at both ends of the floor, but the All-Stars stepped it up down the stretch to put the Pacers away. T.J. Ford kept going under the high picks set for CP, and Chris was only too happy to step back and nail some dagger J’s. Meanwhile, West delivered 6 points, 2 boards, a block and a steal in the fourth.
  • Bobby Brown showed much of the same energy and confidence as Thornton. He came in for Chris Paul at the end of the first and wasted no time in torching Earl Watson for 7 quick points. He’d finish with 9 points, 4 assists and 2 boards. Brown seems to be able to get by his man and into the lane with ease, and he’s also not above crashing the boards every so often. As for that fastbreak oop he caught from Chris Paul in the second quarter: bananas. One worry though was how Brown handled picks defensively; usually he’d get taken right out of the play by a high screen. He’d do well to watch how CP handles those.
  • Hilton Armstrong played pretty well: 7 points, 9 boards and 5 blocks. Of course, he did also have 4 turnovers and was going against the likes of Solomon Jones and Roy Hibbert most of the night. Still, he showed some nice moves and hustle. He got surprised by a back pick on the block in the first quarter, but still managed to get around it in time to swat Hibbert’s short hook. A minute later, Hilton tried a clumsy drive and hit the side of the backboard, but sprinted back on defense to block a fastbreak layup by Danny Granger out of bounds. But then there was the wide open dunk he botched off a nice pick and roll with CP late in the second quarter. Two steps forward, one step back.
  • Hornets Hype with a nickname for Thornton: Lil’ Buckets.
  • From the Big Easy Buzz Blog: “The last thing the Hornets needed was a frontcourt injury, but Darius Songaila sustained what was described as a “hip flexor” by Scott and left the game in the first half. Songaila said in the locker room that the injury was very minor. His early exit was a precautionary one. He said he would have returned to the game if it had happened in the regular season.”
  • Coming into last night’s game, Peja was shooting just 5-for-28 from the field and 4-for-18 from deep. Thankfully, he snapped out of that slump against the Pacers, knocking down 6-of-9 from the field, including 4 triples, to finish with 16 points.
  • Julian Wright got off to a great start, looking very decisive offensively and making plays. His early shots weren’t dropping though and that might be why he faded into obscurity for the rest of the game. Defensively, as is the norm for JuJu, he frequently left his man open for jumpers on the wing; just be glad Danny Granger wasn’t feeling it.
  • The Pacers had scored at least 112 points in their previous three games, so the Hornets deserve credit for limiting them to 96 last night. The defense has a ways to go though. Lack of communication was probably the biggest problem I noticed last night. I got to sit down at the scorers table, right beside the shot clock operator, and it was pretty evident that the Hornets weren’t always calling picks and switches effectively. Hopefully Emeka Okafor’s eventual return will improve that.

Hornets back in action on Thursday, facing the Warriors on the road before wrapping up their preseason slate Friday at Staples against the Clippers.

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