The way we lost this game stings a lot more than the fact that lost it at all.
It's pretty obvious what lost us the game- Miami's decision to keep LeBron James in against our second unit. And it's not like that was some new strategy Erick Spoelstra cooked up for the Hornets game. The Heat have been employing that tactic all season long. We either failed to recognize it or simply ignored it in favor of sticking with out regular rotations. And it cost us.
New Orleans played Miami to a draw through the middle of the third quarter, largely fueled by a flurry of drives and free throw attempts by David West and dominance on the glass. But when Chris Paul and David West gave way to Jason Smith and Jarrett Jack, LeBron James took the game over while the offense ground to a halt. The Heat closed the third quarter with a seven point lead. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, I guess), Monty Williams opted not to change the lineup to start the final quarter. Miami proceeded to dump another run on the Hornets, effectively putting the game out of reach.
Among the other puzzling second half decisions was the shift away from the zone defense of the first half. The Hornets employed the zone in the second quarter, with Aaron Gray serving as the lynchpin in the middle. Perhaps Wade and Lebron's parade of second and third quarter free throws made Williams reconsider his decision to go zone, but asking the bench to man-cover LeBron, Wade, and Bosh was a ridiculous proposition in and of itself. (It should be mentioned that the defense wasn't really ever playing that well- 125 points allowed/possession at end of 1, 126 at half, but it ballooned to 134 at the end of 3).
On to the notes:
- Chris Paul pulled his cute little "decent first half, disappear in the second half" routine. I thought we'd seen the end of it at least a week ago, but maybe not.
- David West carried us all night, but he too stalled in the fourth quarter. Overall, it's tough to criticize him too much because not only did he score efficiently, he also did a tremendous job on the offensive glass.
- Aaron Gray showed flashes of productivity. His clear-out layup and clear-out assist to Trevor Ariza in the first half were welcome contributions, and his presence in the middle really solidified the first half zone defense. But he also committed multiple silly fouls defensively and set very poor (and often moving) screens.
- Marco Belinelli endured yet another horrific night from the field. He was always going to cool down from his hot start to the season, but his shooting has reached almost unacceptable levels over the past couple weeks.
- Willie Green... yeah. Not too noteworthy on the defensive end, and just unimaginably inept on the offensive end. Monty Williams noted yesterday that "the Hornets wouldn't be where they are today without the contributions of Willie Green," to which I say, yes, this is true.
- It's becoming exceedingly clear that Jason Smith is probably not the long-term answer to our backup power forward issues. He struggled on the glass, simply refuses to get out on jump shooting bigs (like Chris Bosh), and his jumper has regressed. Erick Dampier (who we could have had before Haslem went down for Miami) thoroughly owned him on the offensive glass.
- Marcus Thornton didn't play because he couldn't have helped. Obviously.