To say this game was a little back and forth would be an understatement. The Blazers led for for the first 3 quarters on some pretty poor defense by the Hornets. The Hornets edged the Blazers using a first half shooting exhibition from Marco Belinelli, a stellar clutch performance by Willie Green, and a masterful performance by Chris Paul despite a horrific shooting night. They were able to overcome a first half barrage of scoring by the Blazer point guard duo of Miller and Mills and a dominant night from LaMarcus Aldridge. Click the jump for details of this huge victory for the boys in creole blue. (All photos are courtesy of our expert photographer Matt McIntosh)
To start the game, both teams were pretty much getting whatever they wanted. Portland was carried early by LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller scoring in a variety of ways. Open shots for those two led to east drives and jumpers for Fernandez and Wallace. The Hornets stayed within stride of the Blazers due chiefly to a superb shooting performance by Marco Belinelli. Belinelli went 4-4 from the field and 3-3 from the three point line on his way to 11 first quarter points. Unfortunately, Marco's defense left a lot to be desired during this same stretch, as he gave up easy drives and once let Miller come right around him for a put-back (that one made me want to scream). Emeka Okafor had some nice minutes in the 1st as well as he made 3-4 shots including one of the nicest shots I've ever seen him hit. From the right block, back to the basket, Emeka faked a spin move right and turned around to his left and banked in a perfect jumper from about 10 feet out. I was astonished. How he can hit a shot like that and manage to completely miss a point-blank tip baffles me.
The Hornets kept pace with the Blazers for most of the second and managed to close the lead to 2 before the end of the first half. Chris Paul had a chance to tie at the buzzer, but his jumper would be MIA until late in the game. Aldridge and Mills dominated the Hornets on the offensive end, with no Hornet able to slow them down. Carl Landry and Okafor kept the Hornets afloat on offense as no other Hornet seemed capable of putting the ball in the basket. In an interesting sequence late in the second quarter, we saw Gerald Wallace get absolutely demolished by an Okafor screen and Andre Miller retaliating my committing a flagrant foul on Emeka as he rolled to the basket for a layup. The screen was brutal, but clean, and Wallace stayed down for quite awhile (he would return). The flagrant was deserved, and I don't have a problem with Miller committing it there. Par for the course in an intense, physical, and sometimes chippy game.
The third quarter was a draw, with both teams scoring a quiet 20. Aldridge and Landry canceled each other out, each scoring 6. By the end of the third, Chris Paul was 2-11 with 3 points and the Hornets were still down two. Given those shooting numbers, it could have been much worse. The Blazers actually got their lead back up to 7, but the Hornet made another run at the end of the quarter to bring it back to 2.
The game changed in the fourth quarter due to a great performance by Willie Green and some big shots from the Hornets' bench. On offense, Chris Paul and Willie Green decided to penetrate on almost every trip down, resulting in good shots and some break down in the Portland defense. Paul had been getting into the lane more than we saw in LA, but when Willie Green started driving, the game turned. In the first 5 minutes of the quarter, Green had a layup, a straight-away 3, a FT, and a runner. Great plays all around. On the other end Aldridge's jumper stopped swishing, and the Hornets forced enough turnovers to take the lead and extend it to 9. Portland battled back to bring it close, but some nice drives by Paul and Jack and a few jumpers forced Portland to foul late. Carl Landry finished off his nice game by making 5 of 6 free throws to ice the win and give the Hornets sole possession of 6th place in the West. The Hornets also claimed the tie-breaker over Portland by winning the season series 3-1.
Chris Paul's shot may have missed the plane from the West Coast. He started 2-11 and was missing every type of shot in his arsenal. Of course, he is Chris Paul, so he managed to affect the game in other ways. 11pts (4-15, 0-2 3P), 12, assists, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, and only one turnover (which he committed in the first 4min) for the Hornet captain. Paul may have been about as off as possible, but he made some big shots when needed, including a layup under 2 minutes to keep the surging Blazers at bay.
Belinelli was great in the first quarter and disappeared after that. He finished with 16 points on 5-7 shooting and 4-5 from 3. He played just under 8 minutes in the second half, which I probably would have complained about, given the way he was shooting, if not for the efforts of...
Willie Green was huge in this one and the Hornets don't win it without him. He was driving more than he normally does and hitting a variety of shots to keep the Blazers off balance. Willie scored 10 of his 12 points in the 4th quarter, including all 4 of his FGs for the game (finished 4-8). His put-back dunk off a Jack jump shot was epic. It should be on Sportscenter tonight and Willie received no less than 10 questions about it after the game. While the assorted media was waiting to talk to Willie, Jarrett Jack quipped that Willie may not have dunked like that since his days at Detroit Mercy for high school. Laughs ensued.
Carl Landry had yet another solid game as a starter, going off for 21 points on 7-15 shooting and 6 boards (4 offensive). Portland is a very long and athletic team, but 2 defensive rebounds in 39 minutes is unacceptable. Carl must step up his work on the glass if the Hornets would like to continue to win games. The team managed to only be out-rebounded by 5 due solid work from Emeka and the minuscule Chris Paul chipping in 7.
LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 24 points on 19 shots and 15 rebounds. The strategy appeared to be to make him take most of his shots from the outside. He drilled jumper after jumper until missing a few big ones late in the fourth. The Hornets had no answer for him and started doubling him early and often, with mixed results. Thankfully, he got cold at the right time and missed a couple shots late in the game that he had made all night.
Jarrett Jack hit a couple big shots in the fourth and missed 3 others very badly. Finished with 8 points on 8 shots in 25 minutes.
Jason Smith played some nice minutes late in the game.
Patrick Ewing Jr. played 1:37 and did not accumulate a stat. He did bite on a Gerald Wallace pump fake and give up a layup just seconds after coming in. No telling if we will see more from Mr. Ewing.
On Willie Green:
"Willie Green was outstanding. He hit a big 3 up top. His dunk off the rim, stayed tuned to Sportscenter. His energy was outstanding."
On winning the tiebreaker with Portland and jumping to 6th in the West:
"It means a lot. Giving us the series edge is huge, because we're neck and neck. Still a lot of games to play, but this one is big. They have been playing outstanding."
On the win:
"It's very big. This team was in front of us and we wanted to make sure we have the tiebreaker over those guys, and even though we try not to pay attention to it, it's in the back of our minds. It was just a big team win, but we have to enjoy it and get ready for another one on Friday. Memphis is playing well and we expect the same type of atmosphere."
On the bench play:
"I think in the first half the starters were doing a good job, and the bench came in, and we kind of got knocked back on our heels. They took a ten point lead on us. In the second half we wanted to regroup and be aggressive on both sides of the floor. Jack and I looked at each other and said we have to try to get to the basket and get to the free throw line. Jason and Aaron Gray came in and played well for us."
On what spurred him to drive to the lane more often in the fourth:
"I just saw an opportunity to be aggressive. I believe that in all cases you can't make the basket or you can't be aggressive unless you go out there and do it. That's what we needed to do tonight, myself, Jarrett, Mek played well, Jason Smith, Chris came up with some big shots down the stretch. It was a good team win."
On whether closing out the season with several games against opponents that are vying for playoff position will help them prepare for the playoffs:
"I think it was definitely a playoff atmosphere type of game, but we don't want to look past Memphis. This was a good win and hopefully we can build some momentum, but Memphis is a good team, and we recognize that. What we're focusing on right now is the first quarter come Friday night at seven o'clock, and that's as far as we can go right now, mentally. Just to try to take care of business on Friday."
As of right now, the Hornets are sitting at sixth place in the West, but only one game ahead of Memphis, who comes to town on Friday. The Hornets can claim the season series with a victory, as they have already beaten the Grizzlies twice. They're all big from here on out, folks. Buckle up.
Also, don't forget to enter the contest to win my tickets for Sunday's showdown with the Indiana Pacers. It's a simple contest with an opportunity to win 2 lower bowl tickets to the game.