Nostalgia Before the Night: New Orleans Last Home Win

It didn’t matter that it was merely a first round game. That the team had squandered their home court advantage in Game 3. That they wouldn’t win another game the rest of the series. That there was no owner, and other cities and prospective buyers were licking their lips. On this night, it didn’t matter. For New Orleans had just experienced something amazing. New Orleans not only won, but they saw their best player, dominate the defending champions. The series was tied, anything could happen, for the impossible just seemed to have had happened that night. After the game, my friend and I left the stadium and joined the masses walking down Earhart Blvd., under the Pontchartrain Expressway, chanting “Beat L.A.,” and “I’m in!” and God-knows what other unrated slogans, drinking and spilling beer, high-fiving and hugging the people next to us, a brass band away from being the most tone deaf second line the city has ever seen.

The night was April 24th, 2011. It was Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers. The New Orleans Hornets (remember them?) had stunned the NBA by beating the Lakers in Game 1, a game where Chris Paul went off for 33 points, 14 assists, and seven rebounds. But the Lakers had won back-to-back after that, including Game 3 in New Orleans, and it seemed like the magic had worn off. But that is the thing about having a dynamic player like Paul, someone who can be the best player on the court on any given night, even if the opposing team has a five-time NBA champion. No matter.

I remember the next day going to the park and playing on a court with Paul’s “3” on it. I felt like it was his city.  When you have the best player on the court you could win any game. And Paul gave the Hornets that opportunity every night, opponent be damned.

Paul was letting the game come to him that night. Trevor Ariza was playing great. Emeka Okafor looked like the player the Pelicans’ sister franchise in Charlotte had thought they had drafted all those years before. After nearly 23 minutes, Paul hadn’t scored yet, but he was keeping everyone involved, poking and prodding through the defense. Right before the half, Paul was on the receiving end of a hard hit (I believe it was Derek Fisher, but memory fades and game logs don’t record hits). Paul got up with outstretched hands, pleading to the ref, before running down the court and grabbing the rebound. He’d score his first bucket on that possession.

The third quarter went something like this. High pick and roll, mid-range jumper, Paul now has nine points. High pick and roll, mid-range jumper, now he has 11 points. Paul went ballistic throughout the rest of the game. It was something I can honestly say I’ve only seen a few times, where a player was able to dominate a game in every facet. I saw Michael Jordan as a kid, and my dad and me were watching him warm up before tipoff, when my dad pointed out how many baseline jumpers he was hitting. “He’s gonna go for fifty on us,” he told me. My dad knew it. And he was right. Jordan put up 50 on us. I once saw Dwyane Wade get so mad in a game that he went on a tear at the end of the third quarter against the Phoenix Suns, to the point where he blocked a (pre-surgery) Amare Stoudemire, collected the ball, and heaved a 75-foot shot that hit nothing but the bottom of the net as time expired. Wade willed that shot in. While in the air, it almost felt like he dared it to miss. Everyone went nuts. Everyone knew the Miami Heat were going to win that night, and the only thing better than that, was watching how Wade was going to do it. It’s like watching an action movie produced by Disney, you know how it’s going to end, but you love the ride anyway. That’s how good Paul was that night.

Paul finished with a triple-double, scoring 27 points with 13 rebounds and 15 assists. Every play after that hit, everyone in the arena was ready to go off. Nearly 20,000 Jack in the Boxes waiting to pop out. Paul didn’t just control everyone in the audience; he controlled everyone on the court. No one could stop him. “I’m in” was the slogan for New Orleans that year, a whole city “in” for the New Orleans basketball franchise. And the city was, and everyone in the arena was, “in” that night.

In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t mean much to the NBA. Phil Jackson said merely “Well it’s a series now.” New Orleans lost the next two games, and Paul was traded in the offseason. But it gave the city one last great playoff win with Paul at the helm. For a city that loves its stories, New Orleans had one more great story with Paul. For one day, New Orleans had the best player in the game.

Which is why I am so excited for tonight. For there is a chance that I can experience that again. The Pelicans can win, and like that 2011 team, never win another game in the series. And like in that series, it may not matter. With Anthony Davis, New Orleans has a player that on any given night can be the best player in the arena. And there is a chance; he can lift the city of New Orleans up for one night, no matter what has happened before or will happen after. Davis can have, the entire Pelicans team can have, a game that will be a story that lasts longer than their season. And being able to be in the arena, just in case that happens, is a feeling I can’t wait to experience.

3 responses to “Nostalgia Before the Night: New Orleans Last Home Win”

  1. Damn, I’ve been so busy that I hadn’t caught up with your last two pieces.  But, as usual, it was worth the wait!  The manner in which you specifically remember each moment shows what a terrific time it was for you.  I too remember watching MJ light the Heat up that night.  It was one of my better memories, seeing it live!  But the Wade block and shot, man, that was just extraterrestrial, amazing, inexplicable.  Thanks for the memories.  I swear I got goose bumps reading the piece.  And I do believe that the Pels can surprise the Warriors at home.  I’m just sorry I won’t be there to share the moment with you.  Keep up the good work.  Kudos to you.

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