Hornets 100, Suns 95: Late Phoenix Rally Falls Short

Behind another strong Chris Paul performance, a stifling (more often than not) defense, and an impressive display from the bench, New Orleans dispatched Phoenix. However, the Suns put together a run in the fourth quarter that Monty Williams will no doubt be displeased with.

In many ways, that's consistent with the defensive effort we've seen from the Hornets all year- the end product is routinely elite, but from quarter to quarter, it's highly inconsistent. In the first quarter of this game, the Hornets allowed 29 points on 23 possessions, or 1.26 points per possession (league average is 1.07). In the second and third quarters, the team clamped down tremendously, ceding a combined 36 points on 45 possessions, or 0.8 points per possession. That's incredibly good D. But in the fourth, New Orleans allowed 30 points on 23 possessions, 1.3 per and worse than a pretty poor 1st quarter. 

We can maybe chalk some of that 4th quarter defense to a sense of complacency bred by the 17 point lead the team enjoyed in the second half. It' silly to get overly worked up about it either when the end product (95 allowed points on 91 possessions) was quite good. But at the same time, it's certainly worth pointing out; these same defensive lapses could have cost us against a better team. 

Hit the jump for further notes:

- Chris Paul played an absolutely spectacular first half- 20 points on 10 shots, 4 assists, 2 steals. I'm not too worried about his relative lack of production in the 2nd half either; it definitely felt like his efforts weren't as needed with Phoenix well behind for much of the second half (certainly different from other games we've seen him disappear in). Also worth noting: CP has now committed just 5 turnovers in his past 120 minutes. Knock on wood- hell, go chop down a tree- but it does look like the best point guard on the planet is back.

- David West wasn't too active through the first three quarters, but he stuck the important J and free throws down the stretch to seal the game. I also thought his physical defense on Hakim Warrick (0 points on just 4 shot attempts) was effective. Okafor played well alongside him. In 29 total minutes, Phoenix' starting bigs collected 1 point on 6 shots and 4 total rebounds. 

- I've lauded Willie Green's performances of late, but I absolutely hate seeing him spot up for three, no matter how open he is. He's never been a good three point shooter, and setting up threes for him is just not wise play calling on Monty Williams' part or wise play making on Chris Paul's part. Green missed five threes tonight and two long jumpers with his feet on the line. 

- Quincy Pondexter came to play tonight. He made aggressive moves to the hoop on his first two touches (scoring once), floated to space in the corner for three well, and came up with an impressive offensive rebound in the second quarter when both Warrick and Marcin Gortat had solid box out position. 

- Staying on the subject of the bench, the second unit had an impressive performance despite the combined 3 for 15 from Green and Jarrett Jack. Carl Landry made his minutes count, but the two real surprises were Pondexter and Aaron Gray, who had 7 boards (3 offensive) in 9 minutes. As we head towards the playoffs, a Jack-Green-Pondexter-Landry-Gray bench is one I would feel relatively comfortable with... if Jack can keep down his turnovers, Green can keep down his long, low percentage FGA, Pondexter can stay aggressive, and Gray can stay in Monty Williams' good graces and avoid dumb fouls. 

- Er, that's a lot of ifs.

- Moving into the realm of (possibly entirely stupid/pointless) opinions here- I really, really, really am not a fan of Trevor Ariza's body language. Obviously, it very possibly means nothing at all (and my opinion of it means even less). But seeing him mope up and down the floor after failed offensive plays just irks me. It's not that he complains often to refs either; tonight, after Grant Hill cleanly rejected his layup attempt (pictured above) in the second quarter, Ariza simply threw his arms up in the air, sighed disgustedly, and moped around for a bit. DeMarcus Cousins is in a league of his own in terms of negative body language, but Ariza is definitely up there.

- Marco Belinelli got just 8 minutes tonight. If defense is the reason for it, I'm fine with it; again though, seeing Ariza and Green take eight threes is just rough. The Hornets have struggled with efficient shot distribution all season long. It's improved of late due to the recent increased involvement of Chris Paul, but there is obviously room to grow.

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