The Cavs beat the Hornets

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Published: February 24, 2010

On the day I write about Darren Collison for ESPN.com’s Daily Dime, the rookie point and his “pedestrian” 22 and 10 was upstaged by fellow rookie Marcus Thornton pouring in 37 points in 31 minutes.  On 22 shots.  Oh, and the 23 points Thornton scored in the second quarter surpassed Peja’s 2006 record for most scoring by a Hornet in a single quarter. Lil’ Buckets enters the record books.

Outside of the personal exploits, however, I was happy on the whole with the way the team played.  The rookies played with poise beyond their years, the coaches were throwing every gimmick in the book at the Cavs to keep them off balance, and despite being massively undersized against a frontcourt of Shaq, Varejao, Jamison and LeBron, the Hornets actually won the battle of the boards as the entire team contributed.

Marcus Thornton

Thornton unleashed the demon tonight, scoring every way imaginable.  He started the second playing point for Collison, and quickly realized that Mo Williams was not up to defending him.  Soon, any pretense of being a point guard was by the wayside, and Thornton was in full attack mode.  He would push the ball hard, and if the drive wasn’t there, he’d stop at 10 feet and hit a pull up.  After a few of those went down, the Cavs started playing up on him, and he started driving to the basket, nailing floaters, and an amazing array of quick shots.  In the fourth the Cavs ended up flat out double teaming him, and eventually turned him into a three-point shooter with their quick-footed and always impressive perimeter defense.

If there was anything Thornton highlighted tonight, it was his incredible ability to release the ball at any point on his drives without any decrease in his control.  He launched floaters from his hip, at shoulder height, and the classic above-the-head “teardrop”.  As an undersized shooting guard, that skill is a must, as it keeps the shot from being blocked.  Many undersized guards never master it.  Thornton is already there.

As much as his game was a joy to watch tonight, I do have to call him out for one back-breaker play at the end of the game:  After being blocked by Delonte West, he came down the court, checked Delonte once at the perimeter and then basically left him there, cheating to the opposite side of the court and looking for a steal.  Two passes later, Delonte received the ball and had all the time in the world to knock down his three.  6 point game with just a few minutes to go.

The Frontcourt Puzzle

I feel like I’m a bit of a broken record about this, but the Hornets defense proved once again tonight that it cannot handle David West and Emeka Okafor being on the floor at the same time against a disciplined team.  With both on the floor, the Cavs, and LeBron especially, picked the team apart inside, driving and finding bigs easily as the Hornets interior defense rotated slowly or not at all.  It is no surprise then that the big surges for the Hornets occured when West or Okafor played center alongside Posey or Wright at the power forward.  It’s freakish how the Hornets bigs are such an ill-fitting puzzle.  West can score and outlet pass, but he can’t rebound or defend.  Okafor can rebound and defend, but can’t outlet pass or score.  Posey can rebound and outlet pass, but he can’t score or, really, defend.  Songaila can score and defend and pass, but may be the worst rebounding big man I’ve ever seen.  Sometimes Bower can hide it by mixing and matching like a mad Chemist, but on some nights, against teams with strong frontcourts, it can get really ugly.

Other Observations

  • Collison’s array of jumpers was in full effect tonight.  In college, he was a superb shooter, and I’ve been surprised at just how badly he struggled to find the range at times.  This month, though, that jumper has been falling, and you can see he’s started feeling perfectly comfortable letting fly.
  • In the fourth, when Shaq tipped in a rebound that looked like it may still have been in the cylinder, Jeff Bower leapt in the air and let the ref standing near him have it.  After five years of crossed arms from Byron Scott – it’s refreshing to see a coach get worked up and fight. 
  • Alarmingly, a little way down the bench, Chris Paul leapt up at the same non-call Bower did, bent over sharply to try and keep his weight from his knee, and then rather gingerly sat back down.  I love having him so into the games, but someone needs to tie him to his chair during gameplay – for his own good.
  • On the defensive end, Collison had a much harder time.  The Hornets went zone a lot, which meant that Collison kept having to switch and found himself guarding much bigger players like LeBron James, Delonte West and Anthony Parker.  When they didn’t punish him, they simply looked right over the top of him and easily found cutters, their passes unimpeded by his reach.
  • The first play of the 2nd quarter:  A flare for Julian Wright.  Don’t ever say the Hornets coaches aren’t doing what they can to try and build Wright’s confidence.  He even knocked the jumper down!
  • Morris Peterson didn’t hit a three tonight, and the team lost.  I’m really growing to hate my buddy and his stupid stats.  It has no relevance!  None!
  • The last two games, the opposing teams finally realized that the way to stop Peja is to just leave a defender on him.  I’m not sure why anyone would ever forget these, but let’s hope for more coach amnesia in the future.  We need his scoring.
  • Sean Marks got some burn tonight to try and slow Shaq.  He had a nice couple moments, set some nice picks, and fouled Shaq a couple times.  It’s tough to contain a guy who outweighs you by 100 lbs.
  • When Paul comes back, I hope Bower re-inserts Thornton into the starting lineup next to him and goes with a three-guard lineup, rotating Thornton, Paul and Collison.  I don’t care about their size, that’s a potent trio that deserves a rotation like the one I detailed earlier in the season.

Next game is tomorrow night in Milwaukee.  Should be another good one, as the Bucks have been playing well.

UPDATE: Game highlights…

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