Ah, we could, njennings, but then we might win games. And who really would want that?
It was business as usual this evening - competency for three quarters giving way to the absurd comedy of errors that is crunch time Hornets basketball. It's still a bit jarring in contrast to the 2005-2011 Hornets, who, under the controls of Chris Paul, were far and away the most efficient clutch team in basketball. Tonight, New Orleans, over a ten minute stretch, turned a 9 point lead into an 8 point loss with ease, through poor shot selection and blown defensive assignments. Overall, it was an 18 point first half advantage they let slip.
The Anthony Davis dream lives on, but any semblance of fan spirit perished long ago.
Let's disassemble the fourth quarter first. The pace stayed relatively constant, relative to the first three quarters, but Sacramento's offensive efficiency jumped through the roof. The Hornets' did.. not.
Consider this: up till the 8:00 mark of the fourth quarter, Sacramento had used 71 possessions, scoring 76 points, or 1.07 points/possession. Given the fact the Kings score 0.98 points/possession on the season, New Orleans had hardly played great defense on the night (Sacramento's third quarter explosion undid most of the positives of the first half). But what unfolded from that point forward was simply horrifying. After posting that 1.07 figure on 71 possessions, the Kings then proceeded to score 24 points on their last 16, or 1.50. In fact, they came up empty just twice on their last sixteen trips up the floor.
It was the play of Tyreke Evans, driving to the rim at will, and to a lesser degree, Marcus Thornton and Isaiah Thomas that caused it. The Hornets simply could not stop guard penetration tonight. And as good as Tyreke Evans is, his myriad layup attempts were only facilitated by the lineup Monty Williams ran out in the fourth quarter. Between the 9:30 and 6:30 mark, Evans entered the lane with the ball four times, scoring 9 points in total. The first thing you'll notice on a re-watch (please don't do this) is that there was no primary defender on Evans. The closest Hornet simply grabbed him randomly, and that worked about as well as you'd expect.
Moreover, nobody on the floor was particularly equipped to defend Evans during this three minute stretch. Trevor Ariza didn't re-enter the game in the fourth quarter until the 6:00 mark, so a perimeter rotation featuring Vasquez/Belinelli/Lance Thomas was left fending for their lives. Inside, Chris Kaman routinely escorted driving defenders right to the rim as Emeka Okafor was routinely the screen man.
That brings to attention the duality of Kaman, too. Obviously, he has no meaningful role to play with this current side (to be fair, there's a strong (if cynical) argument that nobody has any meaningful role to play). His rebounding helped the Hornets tremendously in this game, it must be said. In 22 minutes, Kaman had 10 defensive rebounds, and on the night, New Orleans did a decent job on the defensive glass. Where the Kings collect over 30% of their own misses on average, the Hornets held them to 25%.
Alongside his rebounding presence though, Kaman brings so many other flaws. His obsession with the low percentage step back jumper routinely leads him to horrible inefficient shooting nights, and this was no exception (4 for 12). He's a defensive liability in Monty Williams' style of play because he simply can't step up with proper timing or force to deny penetrating guards. Both of these things were very clear against the Kings, and the hope is that he can string together a few more box-score friendly (12-10, 2 blocks) performances to warrant a second look from the fringe contenders that originally wanted him.
Elsewhere in the front court, it wasn't a spectacular start from Gustavo Ayon by any measure, but I lost count of the number of times Greivis Vasquez missed him on wide open rolls to the hoop. In fact, Ayon could be seen openly yelling at Vasquez after one such spurned opportunity in the 2nd quarter. This lack of involvement has characterized Ayon's New Orleans tenure since he got here, weirdly. None of his teammates looks for him on offense with any sort of consistency. He's still, to an extent, an afterthought, which makes zero sense given the jump shooting form he's shown, as well as his ability to find open space under the rim.
Vasquez played an otherwise excellent game though. 9 assists to go with just 2 turnovers, 20 points on 9 shots, and if the perpetually ice-cold Belinelli had knocked down a couple looks, this was an easy double-double. Squeaky Johnson struggled to do much of anything off the bench (with his counterpart Isaiah Thomas lighting up the floor) unfortunately.
I'd be remiss to end this without mentioning Xavier Henry's minutes distribution. In 8 second quarter minutes, he produced 8 points on 5 shots and came up with a steal and a block. So naturally, he got the hook in the fourth quarter after just 2 minutes, ceding the floor to Marco Belinelli who closed the final 9 minutes by missing all his shots and playing atrocious defense. As much as "roster experimentation" is a valid excuse for Monty Williams this season, there are areas where it simply does not hold up. This was one of those.
On the bright side - the Hornets pull to within a half game of the NBA's worst record with the loss. Huzzah.