In what may have been the most important game of the season thus far, Chris Paul turned in a vintage Chris Paul performance and led a severely depleted Hornets team to a close win over Memphis. With David West only playing 4 minutes due to spraining an ankle (fingers crossed), the Hornets' offense was heavily bolstered by a dominant performance from their backcourt players. Paul, Jack, Belinelli and Green were responsible for 71 of the 98 Hornets points. The Grizzlies took advantage of some wide-open 3s in the first half, and rode some impressive play from their bigs to keep the game within reach until under a minute left. Some thoughts after the jump.
While the story of the night was the return to form of Chris Paul, I can't say enough about the shooting performance of the Hornet guards. They collectively shot 57%, and Chris Paul was the only one who shot under 50% for the game, at 47%. Blistering. Most of the shots were good ones, but Marco and Willie hit some of the "no, no, YES" variety that had me yelling at the TV. Obviously we can't expect to see this very often, as all of the guys, outside of Chris, were just nailing jump shots. We probably won't see many repeat performances, but it was vital in a game that had the Hornets' leading scorer in the locker room.
Okay, now to the fun part. Chris Paul looked like himself again. This was not one of his recent higher scoring nights in which he was just hitting his jumpers. This was a return to the aggressive, penetrating, and controlling game that we had come to love and expect from the Hornets captain. His stat line was classic CP3: 23 points (7-15, 2-3 3P, 7-8 FT), 14 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 turnovers in 38 minutes. Chris came out very aggressive and obviously looking for his own shot. For the first 3 quarters, he spent a ton of time in the lane and dropped a few gorgeous floaters over the Memphis bigs. Big game at a crucial time for Chris.
Lionel Hollins made a good move switching Tony Allen onto Chris late in the game, as the long and athletic Allen put up a lot more resistance than any of the Grizz PGs had. This move almost paid off for the Grizzlies as the Hornets' offense seemed to stall out a little in the fourth, until Willie Green decided he was tired of bricking shots (including one off the shot clock), and proceeded to go off for 13 points in the quarter, hitting 5 out of the 6 shots he took.
I thought the Grizzlies were going to come back and steal a win when the Grizzlies started scoring in the paint and drawing fouls in the fourth, but missed FTs and some bad shots by the Grizzly guards prevented that from happening. Sam Young and OJ Mayo in particular took some real head-scratchers late in the game. That is a talented frontcourt and I was terrified watching Carl Landry try to defend Marc Gasol in the post. He looked tiny next to Gasol who easily could have had double the 12 points he finished with.
- It was a good thing that Chris Paul got Mike Conley into foul trouble for most of the night. Matt Moore's favortie PG did not miss a shot until late in the 4th quarter, hitting his first 5 shots, including two 3s. Could have been a much different game without White Chocolate and Ish Smith getting a combined 23 minutes (though I though Smith looked pretty good).
- Marco Belinelli returned to the starting lineup and came out red hot and did not cool down. He was 3-5 in the first half and 3-3 in the third quarter, hitting a 3. Naturally he did not play in the fourth. Bah. I was mad until Willie Green went nova. Monty Williams is smarter than me.
- Carl Landry played big minutes with West's injury and performed pretty well. 14 points on 6-14 shooting with 10 rebounds (4 offensive). He took a few more jumpers than I'd like, but a solid outing from the newest Hornet. His play should only improve as he gets more accustomed to his teammates (He bounced a pass off Willie Green's back in the back court at one point.).
- Get well soon Mr. West.
- Another forgettable outing from Emeka Okafor, finishing with 7 points and 6 boards. He still does not appear 100%, as he is elevating even less than usual and his offensive game has not returned from the All-Star break. Hopefully he works himself back into form soon.
- Jason Smith is kind of a mess on the basketball court. Avert your eyes. (Did I mention get well soon, David?)
- Aaron Gray on the other hand looks like a respectable NBA player at times. He finished with 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in 18 minutes with some decent defense on the Grizzly big men. He has got to figure out a way to foul less, as he routinely commits 2-3 bonehead fouls a night (3 PFs tonight, one was a silly offensive foul).
- Jarrett Jack's coming out party continued in this one, with 6-11 shooting including 3-4 from 3(!!!). He didn't contribute a whole lot else, but I'm thinking no one will hold that against him after the way he has been playing recently.
- Quincy Pondexter apparently played 29 minutes tonight. It was a pretty nondescript game from the rook, (4 points, 4 boards) who didn't carry over the flash he showed in garbage time against the Knicks. Need to see more from him to justify not throwing out 3 guard lineups in the future.
That's all I've got. Hopefully this game is a return to form for both Chris Paul and the Hornets and we won't see anything resembling what they displayed earlier in the week. Enjoy the win in the comments.
Happy Mardi Gras, everybody!