Portland 97 (30-17) | New Orleans 89 (28-17)
Wow. That sucked.
The Hornets came into this game on a two game losing streak and played darn good ball through three quarters. In fact, for the first 34 minutes and 30 seconds it looked like the Bees would avoid a three game losing streak, something they had managed to elude all season. Then the unthinkable happened: Chris Paul hit the deck.
Preliminary reports seem positive, as it seems to be a strained (left) groin. The prognosis for the rest of the Hornets was much worse, as the remaining Bees set a course straight for embarrassment, letting the Blazers erase a 17 point deficit in a single quarter. Prescription? Take two aspirin, find your game (that was stolen from right under your noses), and report back the arena on Wednesday.
Ok, enough gloom and doom. This game was solidly in hand before Paul went down. And not a soul among ye in this nation of Hornets fans trusts this team to hold onto a lead (no matter the size) with Paul out for an entire quarter. It's not impossible, but let's face facts: it's probably not happening.
If you'd only watched the first 36 minutes, you'd have been impressed. The Hornets looked solid and played exceptionally well together. They looked like the playoff caliber team we all know them to be. They protected the ball and shot well from the field (29 of 59). Paul's floater wasn't dropping again, but he found his teammates who picked up the slack, leading him to 9 assists by the end of the first.
But then the wheels fell off. After Paul went down, the Hornets proceeded to score a measly 15 points in 13 minutes of play, while allowing the Blazers to tally 38. Their shooting percentage plummeted (49% for the first 36 minutes, 24% for the final 12) and Blazers caught fire, exploiting numerous mismatches between seemingly shell-shocked team and their plethora of young guns. Game over.
It was a sad way to lose, but again, I don't think we learned anything from this loss that we didn't already know. This team would be nowhere without Paul, least of all defeating teams as good as the Blazers. Hate to admit it, but I've got to hand it to Portland for seeing our weaknesses and exploiting them. Most good teams will do that to you.
Let's just hope Paul's hiatus is a short one.
Couple of observations before I leave you:
- Paul only had one turnover tonight, and it was a killer pass through traffic to Ely, who bobbled it out of bounds. After averaging almost 5 TOs a game since mid January, Paul protected the ball well for his 28 minutes of play.
- The Hornets held Brandon Roy to 6/4/5. Small victory considering the outcome of the game, but you take what you can get.
- Posey was 8 kinds of awful tonight. He finshed with a big ol' bagel in points, parftly due to a botched (and wide open) layup in the lane. Periodically he show up on D (he did have 3 nice blocks), but all too often he'd slack on Aldridge, who had no problems making him pay. Hey Posey, do mind at least throwing your arms up and attempting to contest a shot? Jeez.
- Travis Outlaw got have shot blindfolded tonight and still finished with his 16 points. We were spared his wrath in the first half when he picked up 3 fouls, but he came out guns a blazin' in the second half and just torched us.
- Despite a strong game, Jerryd Bayless got annoyingly cocky tonight. When Paul was in, he spent his time flying through the lane attempting to draw blocking fouls, though he usually ended up with a charge since he wasn't even looking to shoot on half of his drives. He eventually finished with 19 points, but as he was taunting the Hornets, I just kept thinking, how can a guy like Bayless get so cocky for outrunning Antonio Daniels down the court? How impressed can you be with yourself when you are out-performing a guy 13 years your elder who's dog-tired from playing way more minutes than usual? Bayless' final point total on the hapless Daniels? 13. Way to go kid, you're a star.
- Meanwhile, let's not write Antonio a blank check here. More than any other player, he might be most responsible for tonight's loss. Instead of taking Bayless' scoring in stride, he opted to try and outdo him. So, as our lead slowly diminishes, our shot at closing out the game rested in the hand of Antonio "Do your best Mike James!" Daniels who is taking shots he has no business even thinking about let alone throwing up. Why not pass a little bit?
- Ok, so I over-exaggerated on the previous bullet. As awful as they were, Daniels only missed 4 shots (they were just poorly timed). The real culprit tonight was Byron who, despite watching his dog-tired vets get out-manuveured by a bunch of young bucks, saw fit to let Mo Pete, Marks, and JuJu ride the pine (the latter being the least forgiveable). Way to stick to your guns, Byron. You really showed those pesky Blazers.
Photos courtesy of espn.com
Composed to: Junior Wells' Hoodoo Man Blues
The opponent's take: Blazer's Edge