Hornets stage 95-87 comeback victory against Detroit

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Published: December 17, 2009

I came into this game wanting to write about David West.  I was determined to watch him this entire game to get a fair read on his play.  And after watching him almost single-handedly lead the Hornets to a 95-87 win against the visiting Detroit Pistons with a huge night on the stat sheet (32 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and an assist), I’m extremely glad I did.

Making big play after big play in the fourth quarter, West showed the kind of All-Star form that has drifted in and out of his game ever since he first joined the team as a rookie.  He can simultaneously be the most electric and most frustrating player on the court on any given night, and for that reason alone he is an extremely compelling figure.

David West, much like Reggie Bush for the New Orleans Saints (a player who was in attendance tonight), is a pretty divisive figure amongst the die-hard fans in this fair city.  I think the main reason for this is that his lapses, much like Bush’s, tend to stick out quite a bit.  Other players make mistakes, but these two have a knack for making their errors highly visible.  Only instead of fumbling, running backwards and avoiding contact (like Bush), West is turning the ball over (SIX tonight), not playing defense or not hustling after loose balls.

I often get asked my opinion of Bush by fellow Saints fans, and I’ve often struggled to give them a good answer.  Until recently, that is, when it all sort of clicked for me.  I’d watched enough of Bush and thought enough about his game to sum it up quickly; and so I now can do so in short order.

West, however, I am still completely baffled by.  Perhaps that is to his credit and it means I’ve been too hard on him.  Or perhaps it means I’m simply trying too much to rationalize for his errors.  Or perhaps it is even an indictment of my understanding of what his assignment should be on any given play.

In truth, I suppose it’s some of all three.

I, like many people, am often too hard on West for an apparent deficiency in shot selection.  Why, might some wonder, is a guy that big taking 20-footers consistently?  The answer is easy: That’s his game.  Moreover, the offensively-challenged Hornets need these shots.  Badly.  (They sure as heck needed them tonight.) 

And when he’s hitting, folks don’t complain.  But when he’s missing, they do.  I don’t understand it when I really look at it.  Why should a shot suddenly become a bad one based on whether a guy is having a good night or not?  Any good shooter will tell you you’ve got to keep firing … and I agree with that.  So it stands to reason a shooter has to shoot, even on an off night, and I can admit error in critiquing West in this regard in the past.

But even saying he should be free to fire up the jumpers isn’t doing him true justice.  The man can be downright tenacious as an offensive rebounder and scrapper in the paint, and he had several nice drives to the bucket tonight also (none bigger than a pair of awesome drives in the fourth quarter, one of which ended in an emphatic slam, that kept his team alive in their rally attempt).

Of course it isn’t that simple, either.  At halftime, West had 14 points.  No one else had more than 8.  He was shooting 70 percent, had grabbed five rebounds … and yet his team trailed 55-42.

Obviously the team relies heavily on multiple players to perform, and many of them failed in that regard in the first half … but West’s on-again, off-again defensive effort and mental lapses sure weren’t helping matters either.

I watched West almost without fail throughout the first half.  He didn’t dive after a loose ball.  He got a layup after not switching on defense and not spacing properly, nearly creating a turnover for CP3.  He gave up an easy layup instead of challenging it at the 7:30 mark, then turned it over (a common thread) on the next possession.  He rotated slowly several times.  He was taken off the dribble by someone slower than molasses in Jason Maxiell.  Later, as part of his terrible three-ball defense against Charlie Villanueva (a long-ball shooter if ever there was one, and a guy who went off for 18 points tonight), he chased a turnover that wasn’t happening, left his man, and gave up a wide open three.  Not content with that slop, he turned it over again on a lazy pass and showed even worse effort on the ensuing rebound, which gave the Pistons a critical (at the time) offensive board. 

It was practically a clinic on what NOT to do.

But the man nutted up when it counted.

Suddenly finding themselves in a close game with two minutes left (thanks mainly to his effort throughout the fourth quarter), the Hornets ran the pick and roll for him at the top left corner, and he ran it beautifully, screening the piss out of Rodney Stuckey (a thorn in the Hornets’ side all night with 26 points) before cutting to the hoop for a smooth layup.

He followed that sequence with a near steal at half court, forcing an errant pass and turnover for the Hornets, which they eventually converted into points again thanks to West.  His back-breaking jumper from just inside the ark with 1:03 left gave New Orleans an 87-83 lead … and essentially ended the game.

From there, the Hornets cruised through some foul shooting to salt it away officially; all the while I pondered what to make of what I had just seen.

Admittedly, I’m still perplexed by this man and perhaps always will be.  That’s what you get when someone is inconsistent … they become far less predictable, and you’re left grasping at straws when trying to predict how they’ll perform night to night.  I have the same reaction with Bush.

But like Bush, I also consequently feel like I have a better handle on what West is, and what he means to this team.  Namely, he’s an All-Star talent who does not have the ability to perform that way every night (sound familiar, Bush fans?).  His apparent tendency to “hold something back” is probably just what it looks like … and sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Tonight he exploded and the Hornets won.   Next time out, the exact opposite could happen.  But that is his game, and he’s not going to change.

Paradoxically, the sooner we all accept him for what he is (i.e. maddeningly inconsistent), the happier we’ll all be.

  • I love it when the team starts strong, and I like to believe it can act as a forecast of how the evening will go.  In this game, Emeka Okafor owned Maxiell on the first defensive set, then scored easily in the paint at the other end to give the Hornets a 2-0 lead.
  • The Honeybees were dressed in some sort of futuristic metal polymer.  Either that or someone took a can of metallic spray-paint to their torsos.
  • Sadly, the biggest cheer of the first half happened when they showed the aforementioned Bush on the Jumbotron – that’s how bad that first half was.  Reggie actually looked downright flattered by the attention, though.
  • Darius Songaila is the new Sean Marks … at least if you judge him by tonight’s game.  Great hustle, a couple of decent buckets, and eight rebounds.  Nice night.
  • Marcus Thornton is streaky as heck, and he will continue to get challenged on defense (as his four fouls tonight attest), but he always seems to come up with at least a couple of positive plays.  That shows tenacity, and it will serve him well until he can get his scorer’s touch back.
  • Even if some of us (namely me) have been somewhat negative this year, at least the scoreboard operator is a positive person.  He boldly counted the disputed basket for Chris Paul at the end of the third quarter … then boldly didn’t count the disputed basket for Austin Daye .3 seconds later.  For the record, he got both calls right, and the Hornets trailed just 73-70 headed into the fourth.
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