To be fair, the Hornet's upset win over the Clippers was a total team effort. Greivis Vasquez's emergence as the team's de facto leader took another step forward with 25 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds and 5 magnificent bombs. Ryan Anderson continued his assault from long range adding 5 three pointers of his own, and earned a new nickname on the night from none other than Eric Gordon: "The Arsenal." Last but not least our Clipper enforcer, Jason Smith, rose to meet the challenge issued by Matt Barnes and chipped in 17 points on only 8 shot attempts.
However, the story of the night had to be Austin Rivers. Before the pressure of closing out the victory started to take hold, he was really really good. From being the team's most effective facilitator (6 assists v. 1 turnover) to knocking down the deep ball (3 of 4 from beyond the arc) to just generally being assertive all over the floor, Austin Rivers easily had himself the best game of his young NBA career. Undoubtedly, even our very own Rohan likely cracked a smile somewhere.
After a typical shaky start out of the gates with patented missed rebound opportunities and close-outs on spot up shooters, the Hornets played relatively well for much of the 1st half. For instance, Al-Farouq Aminu and Vasquez carried the squad in the first quarter, the bench held their own largely in part to River's playmaking and Anderson finished the 2nd quarter en fuego. At halftime, the Hornets were ahead 51-44.
Naturally, many fans were apprehensive another 3rd quarter implosion was on the horizon, yet this time, it never fully materialized. Oh, Caron Butler did his best to bring it to fruition as he dropped 18 points, all on made three pointers. However, the Hornets weathered the storm as they put up 30 points of their own, but I'd be amiss if some credit wasn't given to Barnes.
After Smith set a good hard screen on Chris Paul, Barnes retaliated with an elbow led body block a few seconds later. The officials correctly issued a Flagrant 1, but Barnes being Barnes, decided to pick up a technical foul too. Hence, during the final minute of the 3rd quarter, Jason Smith was responsible for 5 points in the span of 12 seconds. More importantly, this incident appeared to spark the team as the Hornets opened up a 17 point lead with 6:42 left in the 4th quarter.
Ballgame? Hardly. In the next 5 minutes, the Clippers went on a run and narrowed the margin to just 6. After that, most of the remaining 1:38 could only be described as helter skelter. Without a single good attempt of their own, the Hornets attempted to throw the game by giving the Clippers five three-point attempts, but shockingly, they missed them all. And Hornet fans collectively exhaled.
1) Sustained offensive execution. The Hornets managed to avoid those drawn out putrid lulls we've become accustomed to this season. Despite missing Davis and Gordon, the Hornets shot over 50% from the floor (60% from downtown.) Sure the shooting was hot, but much of that had to do with our ability to get wherever we wanted to on the floor.
2) Invisible Clipper big men. Blake Griffin scored 4 points (lowest of his career), DeAndre Jordan did one worse with 3 points and Lamar Odom had 0. 7 points from your 3 best front court players? Thank you, I'll have another! Finally, the Hornets were able to remove a significant chunk of the opposing team's strategy when giving up their nightly allotment of open perimeter looks.
3) No Clipper transition. The Clippers were stuck playing half-court basketball. They've got one of the best at it in Chris Paul but this team relies on getting up and down the floor. Besides Caron Butler launching jumpers, no one else seemed to be having much fun out there. That's not good for a team that feeds off the energy from emphatic plays.
You all know what we could harp on here but I made a promise in the game threads that I wouldn't go there.
Hornets return to New Orleans and face the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. The Jazz haven't played particularly well away from home so let's hope that continues. Geaux Hornets!