The Hornets beat the Timberwolves

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Published: December 10, 2009

For about 20 minutes of that game, the Hornets weren’t even competing.  Lazy passes, terrible rotations, constant miscommunications on defense, too much watching Paul dribble, and some of the worst transition defense I’ve ever seen.  They would brick shots, Paul would get back, and three Timberwolves would follow him in for a layup as Devin Brown tried to decide if he could catch one of them.  You look at the box score and its hard to figure out how the Hornets win.  The Wolves had a 20 rebound advantage, shot 52% from the field and had twice as many free throw attempts as the Hornets.

The Hornets, however, were bailed out by three things:  a furious three-point assault, the rookies playing well, and a quick-moving small-ball lineup that had Songaila playing center and Posey playing power forward.(and getting the benefit of some 50-50 calls)

Going Small

Jeff Bower recognized something as the game wore on.  Their bigs were tearing up our bigs.  West and Okafor held their own against Jefferson, but when Kevin Love entered the fray, the Hornets started getting crushed on the boards.  Since our bigs couldn’t handle the boards, outlet passes were flying, and the young Wolves were out and running, scoring easily in transition en route to a 16 point lead.  It got so bad that even Chris Paul started giving up defensively.

So Bower rolled the dice, sent Songaila out as the center, Posey as the power forward, and loaded up with Thornton, Collison and eventually, Chris Paul on the perimeter.  The Hornets continued to get crushed on the glass, but their pressure on the perimeter and energetic defense inside made it impossible to feed Jefferson and Love in the post.  They stayed home on Sessions, Ellington, and somewhat on Flynn and begged Corey Brewer to shoot.  15-2 run and the Hornets were back into it.  They didn’t go back to the starting lineup until 3:30 was left in the game – at which point they immediately gave up a three point lead and had to struggle to finish out.

One thing is clear from that game, though, Posey is not a small forward any longer.  His foot speed is so drastically reduced, he cannot cover anyone on the perimeter.  As a stretch four, he still has possibilities, however limited they may be.

The Three Point Assault

Stojakovic and Thornton buried the Wolves, going a combined 8-11 from deep.  Peja was feeling it so much he was taking three point shots a good five feet back from the line – and sinking them.  During the vital stretch to get back into the game, the two combined to hit four three pointers.  That’s a quick way to get back into a game.  12 shots for 21 points from the big Serbian, and honestly, I think Jeff Bower uses Peja exactly the way he needs to be used at this point in his career.

The Rookies

As a running feature in my recaps, I’ll always update you on your favorite rookies.  Tonight, Marcus Thornton was aggressive from the moment he stepped on the floor.  He had 20 points in 24 minutes, and kept attacking off the dribble.  His long-range touch was also in full effect, and not one of his threes were forced, which was great to see.  His energy, speed and transition defense was also a much needed change of pace. I was sad to see him go out in favor of Peja Stojakovic with five minutes to go in the game – despite the fact that Peja too was throwing flame from his fingertips.

Collison continued a pattern we’ve seen all season – pesky defense, a shaky first three quarters, and a sudden transformation into a confident and explosive point guard in the fourth.  After struggling all game with his decision making and ability to create or finish shots, in the fourth he blitzed in for a floater and layup over a minute and a half, taking the Hornets from a 91-91 tie to a 95-91 lead.  It was golden.  I don’t really get it either – every scouting report I read coming out of college stated that there was some question about whether he could handle the pressure of big moments.  If anything, he’s been feeding off those moments this year.

Other observations:

  • Paul is hurting.  He made it into the paint exactly three times tonight.  On the last play of the game, when he was clearly holding nothing back, and on two earlier drives that ended with short fading jumpers.  On a bunch of plays, he turned down driving in favor of somewhat contested threes, and he threw the ball away at least three times after dribbling into trouble and being unable to dribble back out the way he usually does.  It is not the Paul we are used to.  His defense has also been slow the past couple games since coming back, as Jonny Flynn and Tyreke Evans were able to get past him without too much difficulty.  I’m hoping it doesn’t linger.  Of course, he still finished with 15 points and 14 assists, a crazy line as it is.
  • At one point in the first quarter, Paul stepped out on Jonny Flynn on the perimeter, and angled his body to invite a drive to the baseline, expecting David West to cover him.  West, however, stayed near the elbow, guarding Gomes, and Flynn got an easy uncontested layup.  Paul was barking at West so loudly after that play, you could hear him over the TV.  He was furious.  I too was irritated by West’s inability to rotate in the game.  He’s always a step behind.  It makes me grumpy.  In a positive David West note, he continues to willingly pass out of the post, and snagged another 3 assists tonight.  Some might roll their eyes at 3 assists, but they all generated three pointers.  That’s nothing to sneeze at.
  • Kevin Love should get the nickname “IQ”.  He’s not the best athelete out there, but he plays damn smart basketball.
  • Songaila was golden.  He may have not snared many rebounds, but the guy defended pick and roll situations with panache, he battled every minute, and kept Jefferson from catching the ball any closer than 16 feet away from the basket on post ups.
  • When I say the defense in the second and early third quarters was bad, I’m not kidding.  Here’s one play that illustrates just how bad it got:  Off a miss, James Posey was the first guy back on defense and he picked up a hard-charging Al Jefferson, holding him from posting up close to the basket.  Okafor reached him a moment later and tried to take Jefferson, but Posey ignored him – not saying anything, or even looking at him.   Meanwhile, Posey’s guy(Brewer) runs up to Posey, looks at him, jogs out to the three point line, and then checks Posey again, who is still in the same place.  Meanwhile Okafor runs to the other side of the court, looking around blindly for Brewer and missing him completely.  Brewer receives the pass, dribbles by Posey, who still doesn’t move, continues past Devin Brown, who takes a half-hearted step towards him, and then lets go with a thunderous dunk just as Okafor turns around and realizes who he was supposed to switch to.   Great job covering each other and talking, guys.
  • Another 2nd quarter, another Hornets meltdown as they got outscored 35 to 24.  Marcus was trying to keep the scoring even, but the defense was too concerned with giving up open layups to allow that to happen.
  • In related news, I’m trying to figure out why the 5 minutes of playing time Hilton Armstrong gets per game always seem to stretch on for eternity.
  • Guess how many shots the Hornets starters made in the fourth quarter of the game tonight.  2.  Peja with a three 30 seconds in to the quarter, and Chris Paul to finish it.  Hows that for riding the reserves?  That’s one thing that Bower gets right.  Byron would have had the starters in with 8 minutes to go, no matter how well the reserves were playing.  Of course, Byron wouldn’t be playing the rookies either, so we’d be 3-18 at this point instead of 10-11.

Next game is Friday, when the Hornets hope to get revenge against the New York Knicks for a loss earlier in the season.


UPDATE: A couple of Journal posts about the game…

Plus the usual game highlights from NBA.com:

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