The Hornets edged the Timberwolves

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Published: January 23, 2010

I can’t help but smile a big stupid smile after that game.

48 hours after knocking in the buzzer-beating game-winner against the Grizzlies, James Posey came through again in the clutch, faking a hand off to Chris Paul with three seconds left before creaking down the lane and scoring the layup to beat the T’Wolves. Making it even better was the fact that the Hornets ran the same two-man sideline inbounds play back on December 9th in the same building, that time David West taking the feed and getting it right back to Paul who cut back door on Jonny Flynn for the gamer. Beautiful job reading the defense both times.

96-94 the final score tonight (box).

Unlikely Heroes

Chris Paul, Emeka Okafor, James Posey and Peja Stojakovic all played poorly against the Timberwolves, but it was those four guys making the big plays in the final 30 seconds to get the win.

CP and Okafor teamed up to spring a great sideline trap on Corey Brewer out of the pick and roll, forcing Brewer to pick up his dribble and force a cross-court pass that Darren Collison was able to pick off. The T’Wolves were down by one at that point, desperately needing a bucket.

Peja did a nice job twice shaking free and getting the ball in his hands after that, resulting in two trips to the line and four vital free throws. It was an otherwise woeful night for him, as he missed all six three-point attempts and finished with only 6 points.

As for Posey, he was almost invisible during his 26 minutes of action, missing all four of his triples, grabbing just 3 boards and dishing one lonely assist. But he more than made up for all that, didn’t he?

Planeteers

There wasn’t much separation between the Hornets and T’Wolves in this game, neither team putting together many big runs. The Hornets had just two of note. The first was in the second quarter, when they used an 11-4 rally to go from five down to two up within a couple of minutes. The second was at the start of the fourth quarter, when they reeled off 9 straight points to build an 83-73 lead.

No coincidence that Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton and Julian Wright were all on the floor for both those stretches. Individually, all three of those guys had some great plays tonight, but it was a whole different ballgame when they were out there together. It was some Captain Planet, by our powers combined-type ish. Lots of frantic energy at both ends of the floor. Collison was stripping bigs and pushing the ball, Thornton was makings heads spin with his sharp cuts and quick release, and JuJu was getting after rebounds (five offensive!) and making not-dumb decisions with the ball in his hands.

I only wish Jeff Bower saw fit to give those guys more burn tonight (21, 18 and 19 minutes respectively), especially considering CP’s struggles and the early loss of David West. Speaking of which…

Down goes David

West was driving to the basket late in the second quarter when he stepped on the foot of a helping Corey Brewer and rolled his left ankle. He was able to walk off the floor without support, but stayed in the locker room getting treatment for the rest of the game.

It ruined what was turning out to be an uber-efficient performance by D-West. He had played 12 minutes before going down, scoring 14 points on just 4 shots (8-of-9 FTs). Minnesota simply had no answer for him.

I haven’t heard any update on West’s injury, but it didn’t look like too severe a sprain. My best guess is that he’ll miss two games, tops.

CP’s Struggles

Chris started the game strong, which was unusual in itself. He had 11 points (5-7 FGs) and 5 assists by the end of the first quarter, making Jonny Flynn pay for going under the screens on the pick and roll. But beyond that, CP wasn’t himself, managing just 12 points (2-7 FGs) and 4 assists with four turnovers the rest of the way. Flynn and Ramon Sessions routinely beat him off the dribble — although, granted, they did the same to all the Hornets’ guards — and Chris never shifted back to attack mode himself, looking disturbingly passive out there.

Emeka Okafor vs. Al Jefferson

Jefferson simply owned Okafor in this one. Emeka finished with 4 points and 10 rebounds, compared to 25 points and 13 boards for Big Al. Jefferson routinely beat Okafor to score in the post, even when the Hornets were dropping down help from the win. At the other end, Okafor took just five shots of his own, and had two of them sent back by Jefferson.

If you’re looking for silver lining in the cloud that was Emeka’s performance tonight, I guess you could take solace in the fact that the Hornets were able to pull out the win despite his struggles, something they couldn’t do against San Antonio and Detroit.

But then, those two teams are a lot better than Minnesota, soooo… never mind.


A few bullets to finish:

  • The real scary thing about Peja scoring just 6 points in 29 minutes tonight? He’s had three other games in January where he’s played at least 25 minutes and scored 6 points or less.
  • Sean Marks made his eagerly awaited return to action tonight, having missed the past 25 games with shoulder and calf injuries. Marks played just 2 minutes and registered nothing but a foul on the box score. Good to have him back though, especially with West now gimpy.
  • Darius Songaila: what were you thinking? Hornets up three, six seconds left, no timeouts for the T’Wolves and you foul Flynn on a layup. Three-point play. Ouch. Bet you wish you could have a do-over on that one. Not a bad game otherwise, even though you started slow and the jumper wasn’t working as well as usual.
  • Awfully quiet in the Target Center for most of the game. You could here CP screaming, “Hey, where you goin?” at a Devin Brown during a botched play in the first quarter. Midway through the third you could hear a fan coaching Flynn against Paul, shouting out “Take him to the hole, Flynn!”
  • That poke to the eye CP took in the fourth quarter? He’s got a shiner to show for it.
  • I hadn’t allowed myself to get too excited by all these close games the Hornets have been playing because I saw them as fool’s gold, and I still do. (That is, I still expect this season to end poorly.) But after these past two games, I’ve resolved to enjoy the tight finishes for as long as they last. We’re seeing some great, nail-biting basketball, and these moments could end up being the high points of the season.
  • Something Hornets announcer Gil McGregor said during tonight’s CST broadcast that I couldn’t quite believe but of course turned out to be true: Marcus Thornton, the 43rd pick in the draft, is the eighth-leading scorer among rookies this season.
  • Excellent job by the Hornets getting to the free-throw line tonight, something they usually struggle with. They finished 28-of-34 from the stripe, with those 28 makes tying a season high.

Hornets improve to 23-19, and that’s New Orleans 1, Minnesota 0 so far this weekend. More of the same on Sunday please. But before that we’ve got the Hornets back at it tomorrow night in Denver against the Nuggets.

UPDATES: Check Mr. Kennedy’s post-game Journal report, plus game highlights and Friday’s top 10 from NBA.com…

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