Hornets’ Late Surge Not Enough Against Phoenix

Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison did all they could to lead another unexpected comeback against a Western Conference foe, cutting a 17 point lead to only 2 in the fourth quarter before falling off. Like so many early jumpers, the ball just didn’t bounce the right way for the Bees. The story heading in was how the rookies would fare so let’s get right to it.

Marcus Thornton

As a shooting guard, Marcus did everything expected of him and then some. On defense he was able to completely contain Jason Richardson (1-6, 3 points in 36 minutes), and although only credited for one steal, was a crucial factor in two more.

He was absolutely relentless in attacking the hoop, even after repeated failures. He was determined to get to the hole, and did so regularly with varying results. In his first five times attacking the hole, he was blocked twice to go along with his three misses.  He wound up making a big lay-up late in the game while being fouled, but missed the free throw. Six drives for 2 points isn’t cutting it.

His five dimes were more than the rest of the team combined and he did it on only nine attempts. The total of 25 points on 21 shots isn’t great, but it’s solid. It must be noted that 15 of his points came during the fourth quarter comeback, so take that for what it’s worth.

There aren’t many little men in the league who shoots as many put-backs on the offensive glass as Marcus does. Unfortunately it isn’t working. The effort is great, the rebounding is awesome, but he has to take the ball to the floor and reset the offense. It’s not as fun or exciting, but it’s the better play.

As expected, he also ran the point for nearly 12 minutes. His first possession resulted in an assist for him and an easy lay-up for James Posey. The next was a complete miscue and lack of communication that resulted in a turnover. Uh oh. Fortunately he settled into the role, finishing with a respectable three turnovers in 39 minutes. Not too shabby for a second round pick playing out of position for much of the night.

The most important minutes of his time at point guard came at the beginning of the fourth quarter with the most obscure Hornets’ lineup in recent memory– Darius Songaila, David West, Julian Wright, James Posey and Marcus Thornton. The coaches, who we will speak about shortly, left the group in together for a full six minutes. During that time a 17 point Phoenix lead was reduced to 9, and the crowd was back in the game.

Darren Collison

DC2 had another up and down game. As a distributor he was great, finishing with 14 assists and 4 turnovers. He does an adequate job covering for Chris Paul in that aspect, but his teammates certainly deserve some credit. The veterans specifically seem like different people when CP3 is out. It’s as if they feel embarrassed that the kid making a million a year is outdoing them, so they hustle a little harder, fight a little more to get open, etc.

One thing that makes Paul’s distributing notably better than Collison’s is the ability to find the open three point shooter. Too many times Collison held onto the rock instead of feeding a wide open Peja or Thornton.

Offensively he tried to do too much. It’s no secret that his shot isn’t great, but he still took 18 of them, finishing with only 16 points. A late 26 foot three point air-ball essentially ended the game and isn’t a shot that he should ever be taking in that situation.

On defense it was a struggle for Darren. Against Mike Conley, Collison might have felt like a bit of a big deal, but Nash (18 points on 10 shots, 12 assists and a single turnover) smacked him back to reality. It was an effortless night from Stevey, who never seemed too worried about the Hornets’ rookie defending him.

Collison admirably fought through screens and never gave up, but was unable to keep Nash from penetrating, resulting in what must have been 10 uncontested Phoenix layups or dunks in the first half.

Okafor and West

Offensively both were OK. West scored 20 points on 18 shots, and Okafor finished with 12 on 9, but on the defensive end they were lost.

It seemed that they had been figuring each other as the season progressed, but tonight they reverted back to the first few games. Okafor didn’t see the floor in the fourth quarter after being owned by Robin Lopez throughout.

I have a hard time admitting that the smallish duo of Okafor and West were simply over-matched by Amare and Lopez, but that’s how things transpired. I can only speculate that it was a complete communication breakdown because throughout the first quarter it appeared we were playing without a man in the middle, despite both standing in the paint on most possessions.

To his credit, in the fourth quarter West really buckled down and played some tough defense against Amare, but it was too little too late.

Both struggled with rebounding, combining for only 10 boards in 62 minutes.

West game up grimacing in the second half, but appeared to be OK by the end.

The Coaches

With the addition of Chris Paul to the bench, there are now three coaches. Paul is in charge of the rookies and assists with referee lobbying, Bower is the one who stands up, yells, and heads the referee lobbying committee, and Tim Floyd is the X’s and O’s guy.

You can tell Paul wants to be out there. At one point the game was about to start and Paul, standing on the court, was still talking to Collison, standing on the sideline. As someone notified him that the game was about to start he gave a look toward the foul line, appeared to sigh, then headed back to his spot on the bench.

Also, it appears that Paul did not have surgery today. We could have used thim during the second quarter, when Phoenix went on a 29-13 run. It was clear then how much we missed our captain.

The Rest

  • Peja was completely ineffective on offense, attempting only one three pointer all game. As always when playing the Suns though, it was fun watching his throwback match-up with Grant Hill.
  • James Posey was back in action doing everything but scoring. He managed 8 rebounds and 6 assists in 24 minutes.
  • Julian Wright had another good game, contributing 5 boards, 6 points, 1 turnover and a monstrous alley-oop from Marcus Thornton.
  • Morris Peterson, expected to see a big increase in minutes as the only backup guard, managed only 8 tonight, putting up this fantastic line– 0-2 shooting, 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 0 fouls, 0 turnovers. He might just be the least active player in the NBA.

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