The Hornets beat the Clippers

Published: March 16, 2010

Just what the doctor ordered. The Hornets got just their third win in 13 tries tonight, ending a 7-game road losing streak in the process. It was their fourth win of the season against the Clippers, and 13th consecutive overall against them. If only we could play Baron and the boys every night.

The game was tight throughout the first half with David West and Emeka Okafor keeping the Hornets in it. In the third quarter, Darren Collison turned it up a notch and the momentum started to swing permanently in the Hornets’ favor. Once Marcus Thornton joined in the fun in the fourth quarter, the Clippers were done.

108-100 the final (box).

Darren Collison

We witnessed perhaps DC’s best Chris Paul imitation tonight in the third quarter. He’d dished out 6 assists in the first half, but had attempted just four shots and had been overshadowed by Baron Davis. But Collison came out of halftime aggressive, and within six minutes he’d knocked down 5-of-6 shots for 12 points and had the Hornets on track.

Later in the quarter, he ran a pick and roll with David West and whipped a gorgeous behind-the-back bounce feed to him for an easy 2 when the Clippers tried to trap. Jogging back on defense after that, Collison noticed Drew Gooden jogging behind him but not paying much attention, so he put on the brakes and let himself get clobbered. Offensive foul on the Clippers. Less than a minute later, Emeka Okafor got called for an iffy foul on defense, and Collison worked over the ref who called it during the ensuing free throws, being bold enough to put his arm around the official’s shoulder as he pleaded his teammate’s case.

Next thing you know, Collison will be purposely getting defenders on his back, sporting a mouthpiece and letting his eyebrows meet in the middle.

DC’s final numbers tonight: 18 points, 8-13 FGs, 14 assists, 4 turnovers and 3 rebounds without a single breather.

Marcus Thornton

Thornton had a woeful start to this game, missing 8 of his 9 first-half shots, most of them jumpers with good looks at the basket. Marcus showed the beauty of his offensive game in the second half though, when he started taking the ball to the basket decisively and getting layups. That seemed to open the flood gates for him and before you knew it he was firing home long bombs again. 17 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists for him in 30 minutes. He shot 6-of-9 from the field after halftime.

That offensive versatility by Thornton — dangerous inside and out — is something the Hornets really didn’t have enough of from individual players last season. It was especially fitting that we saw Rasual Butler in action tonight, because he’s a prime example of a guy who can do one thing (shoot) really well, but take that away from him and he’s almost worthless out there. Morris Peterson fits the same mold. But Thornton is a killer from deep, and he can explode by his man and finish at the basket. He’s shown that he can be effective from midrange, too.

Even better is that the Hornets don’t just have one rookie with a great mix of offensive skills, but two.

David West

West has been playing some of the best basketball I’ve ever seen him play this month, and it’s a damn shame he only has a pair of wins to show for it. In his last seven games, he’s averaging 24.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4 assists, shooting better than 60 percent from the field. Tonight he shot 11-of-17 from the floor, scored 24 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and matched his career high with 7 assists. He also surpassed his previous career high for assists in a season.

But West’s improved play goes beyond simple statistics. He’s really putting forth consistent effort out there. The last few games we’ve seen him out ahead of the pack and finishing fastbreaks, and tonight in the second quarter I saw him sprinting down the floor even when there was no obvious break for the Hornets. I’ve also been impressed with how he’s handled what I think is becoming increasingly physical defense by the opposition. Guys are bodying up on West much more, bumping and swiping. If anything though, David looks to be barking less at the officials.

Other notes and observations

  • Can anyone tell me what the Clippers were trying to do offensively in the second half? Early in the game they looked to post up Baron a bit against Collison and play inside out for the most part, but they looked hopelessly lost from the third quarter on, ignoring mismatches and surprising each other with ill-advised passes. Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw seemed to be the only two Clippers on the same page, but give them time to adjust to their surroundings.
  • Emeka Okafor put up solid numbers: 12 points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes. He got most of his points early, and in a variety of ways. As for his board work, I’m not sure if he was boxing out real well or if the Clippers just couldn’t be bothered crashing, since it looked like a lot of those rebounds fell right in his lap.
  • Morris Peterson came through with a new season-high of 17 points, knocking down five triples. He also somehow managed to get 8 rebounds and 5 assists. I’d love to heap praise on him after such a performance, but I can’t recall him doing anything really noteworthy apart from finally sinking a few of those same open looks he’d been missing all season.
  • Julian Wright played 23 minutes, most of them in the first half. He finished with 4 points, 3 rebounds, an assist and a steal. Nothing spectacular. Defensively, he struggled against Rasual Butler. Gil McGregor made a nice observation on the TV broadcast that JuJu was allowing Rasual to catch and shoot far too much, rarely forcing him to put the ball on the floor. Marcus Thornton did make Rasual put the ball on the floor later in the game, to great effect.
  • Another interesting observation from CST tonight: In the 14 games since the All-Star break, Marcus Thornton has scored 74.5% of the Hornets bench points. Wow.
  • All these assists from West when Chris Paul is injured serves as further evidence to me that CP dominates the ball too much when he’s out there. Sure, Chris is the league leader in assists, but as a team the Hornets have been terrible in assists the last few seasons. I’m hoping Jeff Bower does experiment with Chris playing off the ball quite a bit when he comes back.
  • There was some discussion in the Game On comments about rooting for your team to lose. NOEngineer with what I’m adopting as my new default response for any such talk: “Why not also root for some career-ending injuries that might strategically help our team, a nice big hurricane so we can all remodel our houses, and the chance for our loved ones to cash in on our life insurance. Yay?”

Hornets back at it Wednesday against the Warriors in Oakland, another lowly opponent before a trip through hell: @ Nuggets, @ Jazz, Mavs, Cavs, Blazers and Lakers.

UPDATE: Game highlights from…

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