Thursday, December 18, 2008

Huge Win for the Hornets

In a playoff rematch last night in New Orleans, the Hornets knocked off the Spurs, behind an impressive fourth quarter comeback fueled by Chris Paul, David West and James Posey. Though their 14-7 start should hardly have been cause for concern, massive preseason expectations had created a somewhat nervous atmosphere for New Orleans Hornets. This is a win that could breathe fresh life into the Hornets’ season, as they were playing the back-at-full-strength San Antonio Spurs in the second of back-to-back games, and were without Peja Stojakovic.

The Hornets were down for most of the second half, trailing by as many as nine points, and down seven with just five minutes left in the fourth quarter. As the Spurs went cold in the closing minutes, the Hornets came to life, as David West hit a pair of 3-points, just his 4th and 5th of the season, to bring New Orleans to within a single point. A pair of Tyson Chandler free throws with 2:13 remaining put the Hornets up by a point, and they would never look back. With 1:47 remaining in the game, james Posey missed a fast break layup, which was followed by Rasual Butler, extending the lead to three point. The knockout punch appeared to come with just over a minute left on the clock when, after Chris Paul’s second rebound of the quarter, he found Posey on the left wing for a deep three, which he knocked down, putting the Hornets up, 85-79.

After a Tony Parker runner cut the lead to four points and gave the Spurs new hope, the game got its signature moment. With just 24 seconds remaining, Paul and Manu Ginobili scrambled for a loose ball at the Hornets’ end, and a jump ball was called. The Spurs had a chance to regain possession and put together a miraculous last-minute comeback, but Paul was having none of it! With a 6-inch height advantage, Ginobili should have had little trouble controlling the tap, but an impeccably-timed, picture-perfect leap from Chris Paul (his hand was at least three inches above Manu’s!), controlled by Butler, slammed the door shut on San Antonio, who had to start fouling, and ultimately fell, 90-83.

For Paul, it was a quietly dominating performance, particularly in the fourth quarter, when he scored just five points, two of them coming on free throws after the game had been decided. Paul ended with an “average” stat line of 19 points, 6 rebounds, 12 assists, 3 steals and a blocked shot, but it was the way in which he dictated the tempo of the game’s final minutes and protected possession for the Hornets that stood out. In classic Chris Paul fashion, he never made a mental error and constantly found his teammates in threatening positions.

On a side note, congratulations to Chris Paul, who recorded a steal in his 106th consecutive game, breaking then-Spur Alvin Robertson’s 22-year record. An amazing accomplishment, and given the way that Paul plays the game, the streak is unlikely to end any time soon.

Though the Hornets were already off to an outstanding start, lofty expectations were obscuring their accomplishments. This win should go a long toward answering any questions hanging around the team, as Paul, as always a huge contributor, did not have to carry the entire team to the win. For a quality team like New Orleans, a short-handed, comeback victory like this could provide the spark needed to cement themselves among the NBA’s elite.

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