On Sunday March 6th, in a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Hornets point guard Chris Paul suffered a concussion going for a loose ball that put his future availability largely in question. Based on the new information we've received for concussions, especially in relation to athletic instances, we've all become more educated on the long standing severity of the injuries and it was fair to wonder when Chris Paul would return. Simultaneously, the Hornets were in the thick of a playoff chase, their future as a unit still in doubt and with two games against Chicago and Dallas following closely after. The Hornets put up a valiant effort in Chicago the night after the Cleveland game but couldn't produce down the stretch and would up losing the basketball game. On March 9th, even with the team at home, hosting the 46-17 Dallas Mavericks didn't seem very hopeful for the Hornets. But this time the effort not only kept the game close, but helped the team pull off one of the most gratifying victories of the season. And that's moment number seven on the top ten for the Hornets this season.
We Hornets fans had plenty of trials last season in terms of watching the Hornets play without Chris Paul. The offensive production is spotty at best. The defensive effort is largely vacant and the team definitely struggled with Paul out of the lineup. It's not for a lack of energy, but not having the best player on the team in the game makes for the poor execution which transpires into difficulty winning basketball games. Even in the Chicago game, the team played hard but couldn't score down the stretch. It's difficult when the best point guard in the game isn't giving you the ball in your best possible position to score. So when the Mavericks came to town, who could really expect much different?
The Mavericks are probably the Hornets chief rival outside of the San Antonio Spurs. Long hated in New Orleans, Dirk Nowitzki and company even managed to seduce and corrupt poor Tyson Chandler, who found himself taunting the fans who once adored him during the game. The Hornets fell behind early and stayed behind for the entire game. Marco Belinelli was able to find his touch from the floor and keep the Hornets in the game, as was Jarrett Jack, the back-up point guard who was starting in Chris Paul's absence. Belinelli hit four three pointers in the game and even managed to swish one from half court right before the halftime buzzer to get the deficit to 3 at the break. But as soon as the second half started, the Mavericks went back to work.
The effort and hustle was there for the Hornets, who didn't allow the Mavericks a single offensive rebound the entire second half to stay within reach. The Mavericks took a nine point lead with 4 minutes left when Carl Landry fouled out of the game, and that lead settled to 92-85 with 1:13 left for the Mavericks. But the Hornets would not quit.
Marco Belinelli hit a three pointer to cut it down to four with 50 seconds left after Jarrett Jack rebounding his own missed three. The Hornets would get a stop defensively when Trevor Ariza stole the ball and after two more offensive rebounds, Emeka Okafor would hit a layup to cut the lead down to 2 with 19 seconds left. Okafor was fouled on the shot and missed the free throw and Dallas would get the ball back. Tyson Chandler, the former Hornet himself, rebounded the basketball and was immediately fouled. With the crowd, and even his buddy Chris Paul in street clothes on the bench, yelling as loud as possible at Chandler, he tensed up and missed both free throws. The Hornets grabbed the rebound and drew up a play. With the ball, down by 2, the Hornets inbounded to Jarrett Jack, who promptly drew the shooting foul on Jason Kidd beyond the three point line with 8.5 seconds left. Jack went on to make all three shots to give the Hornets the lead. Dirk Nowitzki would have one last shot but great defense by Okafor would force a miss and the Hornets provided the improbable comeback for an unforgettable victory.
Paul would soon return from his concussion and even regain some of his old form after the return. In the grand scheme of things, it really was just one victory over the hated Mavericks. But the effort and determination of the Hornets against a division rival on a night where they were without their best player should not go unnoticed. The grit and determination against one of the best teams in the NBA and without Chris Paul make this game the number 7 moment on the Hornets top ten list for the 2011 season.