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The Hornets beat the Hawks

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Published: November 22, 2009

Yeah, that tanking talk was way premature.

Two days after slaying the best team in the Western Conference, the Hornets took down the beasts of the East, putting together four solid quarters of basketball to topple the visiting Atlanta Hawks, 96-88 ( box | recap ).

A microcosm of this game came with about 1:30 left in the fourth quarter. The Hawks went inside out to get Jamal Crawford an open corner three, cutting the Hornets lead to six points. Darren Collison came down court and, as he’d done several times already in the game, got a high screen on the right side from one of his big men (Emeka Okafor on this occasion) then dribbled middle towards the paint. Atlanta had dropped a help defender from the far wing on that same play twice in the fourth quarter, and had twice been burned by Collison dishing out for open triples. This time the Hawks stayed home so Collison continued into the lane, getting halfway down, drawing the help D, and remaining calm to find David West for an open baseline J. West missed, but Marcus Thornton had sneaked in under the basket from the right corner and was able to tip the rebound up and away from Josh Smith. Al Horford looked to have position to grab the ball out of the air, but Okafor took a swipe and batted it back over to Thornton, who wasted no time in getting a shot up. Horford would get a hand on that attempt, but was rightfully called for a goaltend. 1:10 left, Hornets by 8, and the crowd on its feet.

A lot to love on that play: the defense spread by the shooters; Collison making good decisions and exploiting the gaps; Okafor setting a solid pick, rolling nicely and positioning himself well for a chance at the rebound; Thornton getting in among the trees, battling and getting two more points any way he could.

All good things, and justly rewarded. It’s been bundles of fun watching the Hornets these past few games.

On to some notes…

Darren Collison

The final numbers for Collison tonight: 22 points, 8-13 FGs, 11 assists, 5 turnovers. He showed blinding speed several times, finished well at the rim, delivered that usual pesky defense and even knocked down both his three-point attempts. The kid is showing amazing poise and confidence running the offense; very little hesitation from him. I wonder how much of what we’re seeing is just Collison being Collison, and how much is Chris Paul’s influence and tutoring.

Interestingly, a lot of Collison’s turnovers and other mistakes in this one involved Peja Stojakovic. Collison was mostly at fault each time, repeatedly misjudging where Peja was on the floor. But those are issues that should be easy to correct.

Marcus Thornton

Thornton scored 21 points tonight, and he got them every which way. He was cutting back door, taking guys off the dribble, finishing on the break, shaking loose for a corner three, spotting up on the wing, abusing Jeff Teague in the post, absorbing contact and still finishing. He even scored while on defense in the second quarter; it’s like he can’t help but put the ball in the basket.

What I find most impressive about Thornton offensively is the economy of effort. He rarely wastes a dribble or a step. Every move has a purpose.

The only thing I’ve yet to really see from him is a mid-range game, but I’m not about to complain.

Three-point shooting

Peja picked up where he left off against Phoenix, draining four threes in the space of two minutes in the first quarter. The Hornets were having a hard time getting their offense going, but that barrage opened the game up. Noteworthy that the first three of those shots by Peja came off the break or on broken plays. The last one came from a beautiful set play involving multiple screens and some misdirection by the Hornets, resulting in Peja springing free for a wide open look up top.

The Hornets would finish the game 12-of-17 from deep, with most of those attempts being open looks. It’s amazing what happens when you cut down on the pounding and get that ball zipping around.

Defense

The Hawks got very few easy baskets in this one. Save for a few minutes before halftime, the Hornets did a great job getting back in transition and slowing the Atlanta break. Some open looks were allowed on the perimeter, which would seem to be by design since the Hawks have not proven to be a serious threat from deep. The Hornets also fouled smart in this one, making the Hawks earn points at the free throw line rather than give up dunks or layups.

Devin Brown, Marcus Thornton and James Posey took turns defending Joe Johnson (who finished with 14 points on 6-18 shooting), and the Hornets usually sent a big man to help when Johnson caught the ball in the post. In fact, the Hornets frequently doubled on the low block no matter which Hawk had the ball there. The defensive rotations off of those doubles were effective for the most part.

Emeka Okafor hasn’t been as much of an offensive force for the Hornets lately, but he seems to be becoming much more comfortable defensively, rarely getting caught out of position and offering good help to challenge drives to the basket.

Hawks off-night

The Hornets played great tonight, but I’ll be fair and admit that we didn’t see the Hawks at their best. They were coming off a hard-fought win over the Rockets last night, and they just didn’t look anything like a team with the best record in the NBA. Losing Bibby to that ankle injury obviously hurt them, too. Jeff Teague could only deliver five unimpressive minutes at the point, and Jamal Crawford isn’t much of a quarterback.

That said, the Hawks were 3-0 in segababas before tonight.

No opponent runs

The Hornets have built early leads these past two games, and they’ve refused to relinquish them, answering each and every run by the Suns and Hawks. That shows excellent resolve by the players, as well as smart substitutions and use of timeouts by the coaching staff.

Case in point: the Hornets bigs on the floor early in the fourth quarter were Darius Songaila and Hilton Armstrong; two guys not exactly known for their rebounding and interior defense. The Hawks seemed to recognize this and chipped away at the lead with scores inside from Zaza Pachulia and Marvin Williams. With 7:05 left, Pachulia grabbed an offensive rebound from Hilton and was fouled on the put-back attempt. By the time he’d canned the two free throws, David West and Emeka Okafor were back in the game.


A few bullets to finish:

  • The Suns average 111.3ppg, but the Hornets held them to 103 points on Thursday. The Hawks average 108ppg, but scored just 88 tonight, their second-lowest output of the season.
  • A poor offensive showing for Devin Brown in this one, but he helped in other areas. One thing about him though: more than any other Hornet, he’s prone to pounding the rock and killing the ball movement.
  • A 6-of-20 shooting night for David West, including a number of point-blank misses once again. Great effort and help defense from him tonight though.
  • Thornton’s averages the last five games: 16.8 points on 51 percent shooting.
  • Collison’s averages the last five games: 15.4 points, 5.6 assists, 2.4 turnovers, 1.2 steals.
  • Games since Byron Scott was fired: five.

UPDATE: Video highights:

UPDATE 2: Post-game press conference:

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