Come April, odds are good we'll look back at November and December and rue the should-have-been wins. Thankfully, this won't be one of those, but it sure was close.
Where to begin? At a glance, it's difficult to say how we were in this game at all. New Orleans was unforgivably passive, perhaps more so than in any game all year. The 25 three point attempts and countless long two's speak to this; Minnesota attempted just 9 triples, instead opting to parade around in the paint all night. Additionally, the Hornets visited the line a paltry 10 times in 91 trips down the floor. Chris Paul and David West combined for two free throw attempts. I could go on and on about this- in fact, more on this a bit later (esp. re: Paul)- but first, the key plays that led to the win.
#1- Paul's Lay-Up (Duh)
The game-winner obviously stands out. The Hornets were clearly at a disadvantage with under 10 seconds left and the Wolves with a foul to give. In such circumstances, even a catch and quick move to get free could be easily negated. Tim Floyd and Jeff Bower showed terrific understanding of this. Instead of employing the "pass to Paul, let him do something" technique, they did one better. The original inbound play called for Posey to inbound, Paul to catch, Posey to cut right baseline, and Paul to hit him. Unfortunately, the inbound itself was well defended by Minnesota. Paul couldn't handle a tough inbounds pass, and the play was lost. Minnesota opted to foul CP at that point. Hindsight being 20/20, the Wolves may rue the decision, but it was certainly the right call.
After the subsequent timeout, Jim Flower's decision to go with the same play call was quite gutsy. It would have been one thing if the previous play had disintegrated right at the inbound. Instead, Posey tossed it in and made his run right to the rim. Everyone knew that if Paul had made the catch, Posey had the layup (Minny commentators- who are awesome- saw it right away). The additional wrinkle, of course, was CP as the in-bounder. "Watch the inbounder" is one of basketball's biggest cliches, but Flynn turned away anyway, and that was that.
#2- Brewer's Discounted Shot
This, over at our fellow SBN site, Canis Hoopus, amuses me.
The shot's timing was indiscernible in real time, though it did feel like Corey Brewer had taken his time, a little too much. I'm glad the NBA has its replay system; after seeing a plethora of missed calls in the MLB playoffs and the whole Henry deal in international football, it's clear that fans of the NBA and NFL have it good. Of course, it's easy for me to sit here and say this after the Hornets won by one. Kudos to the Minny commentators for also spotting it quickly and explaining it.
#3- Posey's 3 Drawn Charges
All three happened early on in the fourth (Ramon Sessions at 9:30, Ryan Hollins at 8:10, Corey Brewer at 7:22) but all three were huge. Seriously, I can't overstate how much impact these drawn charges had on the game. He drew three charges in four consecutive possessions! In just over 2 minutes, Posey converted 6 Minnesota points to Hornets possessions (not all 3 shots were going, but Minnesota rebounders were lurking free, on each). The combined value of Posey's three drawn charges is right up there with Paul's lay-up and Brewer's discounted jumper.
Chris Paul had a bad game. You simply won't see him miss 9 shots and lose 5 turnovers on the same night very often. Clearly, there's still some rust he needs to work off. Much of the Hornets' lack of aggressiveness needs to be attributed to him. He simply didn't take the ball up the middle and to the hole in the second half. I say this, but then I take a step back and realize: in what will certainly be one of Paul's worst games of the season, he scored 15 points on 14 shots, had 14 assists, and scored the last-gasp game winner.
Jonny Flynn, his counterpart, was solid. Al Jefferson raised a lot of eyebrows this summer when he noted that Flynn could eventually be as good as Paul. I don't know about that, but he did hold his own. In my mind, his biggest asset is the ability to get into the paint at will. Minnesota dominated the paint, in no small part, thanks to him. He finished with 14 and 9, with just 2 turnovers. He did finish with a team-worst -12, but much of that was due to his match-up with Paul.
Ramon Sessions, on the other hand, puzzles me. More specifically, the Wolves' use of Sessions puzzles me. I loved their pursuit of him in the offseason. After a turnover-prone rookie campaign, he became a much better decision maker last year. Certainly, Sessions looked like he could turn in an All-Star type season in 2009-2010. But so far, he's getting fewer minutes with Minnesota and doesn't have nearly the same role. He racked up six assists in just 14 minutes.
Darren Collison took over the role of "Chris Paul," down the stretch in the fourth quarter. He crossed over, got into the paint, and found James Posey for the go-ahead three. On back-to-back possessions at 5:00 and 4:00, he got into the paint and made a floater, then a lay-up. While CP plays off the pick and roll heavily, Collison often takes defenders from isolation situations. It's a good change of pace to force a defense into guarding him. Dimes finished with just 4 points and 4 assists, but those two shots came on high-leverage possessions.
Kevin Love, staying on the subject of former Bruins, turned in a great game too. It's really hard not to like the guy. In limited minutes, he destroyed the Hornets' front line (which, to be fair, featured James Posey and Darius Songaila playing the 4 and 5 in the second half) on the glass.
Devin Brown did not have a turnover for the first time since November 2nd, when he played 4 minutes.
Emeka Okafor didn't do too much, again. Jeff Bower noted a few days ago that he was looking to get Mekatron involved more. Some foul trouble hurt tonight, but again, Okafor didn't have much of a scoring role. I'd like to see Paul play the pick and roll with Okafor, something we haven't seen much of. Most of Emeka's touches come on the low block. A slightly crazier idea would be a West-Emeka two-man game. With West's underrated passing game, it could certainly work. Let's see what Jim Flower comes up with over the next few games.
David West continued to struggle with his shot. 6 for 15 can be overcome against the Wolves, but it's certain doom against higher caliber opponents. And a measly 6 rebounds in 28 minutes didn't help matters at all.
Marcus Thornton is the man. No armband tonight, but he bust out in a big way on the road. He had an open three and free throw rim out too. The stat line of 20/2/1 is something we should get used to- a classic JT line for MT. Don't sweat the rebounds and assists because dude is all about one thing- buckets.
James Posey deserves another mention. Not only were the three charges huge, but he also put in the big go-ahead three. On top of that, he could have had the game winning layup too, if the inbounds play were better. With Thornton and Collison producing, the pressure on Posey to be "the" bench guy is off. I think the effects of that are becoming more obvious by the game.
New Orleans got beat on the boards and in terms of aggressiveness, in what could have been a painful loss. Instead, we're now 10-11 with a revenge game vs. New York upcoming. Monday, we're off to Dallas, to potentially rise above .500 once again.
The game flow was pretty wild- really the definition of back from the dead. Credit to the guys for sticking with it, and pulling out just our second road win of the year.