The Hornets Storm back and Beat the Magic
Well, I just saved that game on TiVO as “Keep until I Delete”. It simply had everything I love about basketball in it: Incredible shooting by the Hornets, West playing with fire, a tremendous comeback against the odds, big shots, and an unlikely hero.
The comeback was crazy, considering how the Magic had built their lead in the first place. During the second, their guards attacked the Hornets biggest Achilles heel: pick and roll defense. They drove into the paint and scored easily, or dished to Dwight for a dunk. Over, and over and over. The lead grew to 18, and I had pretty much accepted that it was going to be one of THOSE nights.
But then the Magic relaxed, committed some turnovers, gave up some easy baskets, and started taking threes. The Hornets kept attacking, the crowd got into it, and the defense on both sides began to tighten. The Hornets, however, lived on scrapping and trying to get easy baskets. The Magic lived by the three – despite abysmally cold shooting for them. At some point I expected the ever over-expressive Stan Van Gundy to grab Jameer Nelson by the shoulders and scream at him, “For the love of god, get to the basket!!!”
Never happened. Hornets win.
I’ve probably said this before, but little has been more depressing over the last season and a half than David West’s frequently lackadaisical play. He’s been my favorite Hornet for years, and it hurts to see the lack of effort some nights. Tonight, however, from the start, you could tell he was there to play. He hit a tough jumper, fought through contact for a pair of layups, and suddenly everything was dropping. Bad shots, good shots, contested shots, they were all falling. I can’t even say Rashard Lewis’s defense was bad, because it wasn’t. West was just clicking.
Then, early in the third, when the Hornets had chipped an 18 point lead to 12, I saw West scramble to cover a cutting Matt Barnes, then sprint out to contest a shot by Rashard Lewis. He then ran down court, leading a break that ended with an easy layup for him. I watched that series three times, grinning like a fool, and it was then I thought we might have a chance in this game.
And the three in the fourth? You KNEW that was going in.
40 points on 24 shots, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks, 1 turnover and a warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Really. Aaron Gray. He made all the difference in the world tonight, and played 3 more minutes than Okafor. He deserved every one of them. Okafor relies on a combination of athleticism, strength and jumping to be effective. Unfortunately, Dwight Howard outstrips him at all of his strengths, leaving Okafor with no advantage over Howard at all.
When Aaron Gray came in, I groaned, expecting to watch Dwight rip the Hornets apart inside. Instead, Gray worked very hard, fighting for position, and sometimes simply draped himself on Dwight, leaning on him for every rebound, putting a body on him constantly, and generally making Howard work hard simply to move his tremendous bulk. Since Dwight is uncomfortable facing up, the massive size of Gray actually nullified much of his offensive game outside of alley-oops.
What was interesting was Gray wasn’t perfect. Rebounds kept slipping through his fingers, and several times I was left dumbfounded by his inability to hit a layup. It didn’t matter, he hit a couple important shots, got his hands on the most important rebounds, and had a huge impact on the game. It is no surprise his +/- for the game was the highest for the Hornets at +14.
- Peja is slipping back into obscurity as the Hornets continue to play solid defensive teams. The Magic put Barnes on Peja and told him to stay home, no matter what. As a result, Peja was unable to get any room, and struggled badly, getting 4 points on 7 shots.
- Chris Paul was moving well. He looked pretty depressed during the Magic’s big run, but he was always the first off the bench celebrating during the Hornet’s comeback. His demeanor is priceless.
- Collison had a lot of trouble penetrating against the solid Orlando help defense, leaving him to take a lot of pull up jumpers. That’s not his most efficient shot, but he still drilled a huge one to put the Hornets up 6 with a minute to go. The kid’s got poise. He finished with 16 and 7.
- Thornton rumbled to 18 points on 14 shots, including a very early in the shot clock crazy three with 50 seconds to go that had me yelling “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO- yeah!” Chris Paul’s reaction to the shot was priceless. He was simply shaking his head and trying to hide a smile behind his hand.
- I wanted to smack Jeff Van Gundy when he was talking about trading Paul. What the hell? Can we at least TRY to see if the backcourt trio of Thornton-Paul-Collison can play together before we throw in the towel? What is the rush? The Hornets aren’t likely to be able to rebuild the team until mid-season next year anyways, when their expiring contracts reach their highest value.
- Oh, I say Thornton “rumbled” to 18 points because he’s like a wrecking ball out there. I continue to be awed by his ability to post and muscle his way over, through and around his defender, many of whom are bigger than him.
- The Hornets outrebounded the Magic, which is something they’ve actually been doing fairly well at recently. Posey deserves a lot of credit here. Though his shot and speed have completely deserted him, his veteran savvy serves him extremely well on the glass for rebounds and outlet passes.
Next game is Sunday against the new-look Dallas Mavericks, followed Monday by the Spurs. No rest for the weary.