Things both started and ended poorly for the Hornets tonight. A depleted Pistons team (missing Rodney Stuckey, Rip Hamilton and ultimately Tracy McGrady as well) managed to surprise the Hornets and jump out to an 8-2 lead. Yet the Hornets recovered quickly, mostly due to the three-point shooting of Marco Belinelli. In no time the Hornets had regained the lead and I was confident the Hornets would hold the lead and win this one without a whole lot of effort. That didn't happen.
Things would eventually go awry, but the Hornets did maintain a lead throughout most of the first half. What we saw from the Pistons in the first half was similar to what we saw from them previously. Lots of jumpshots and very little inside play. The Hornets played smart and steady on the offensive side and while the Pistons kept it close and even threatened to take the lead occasionally, they simply couldn't get enough defensive stops. West in particular caused all sorts of trouble for the Pistons. By the end of the first half the Hornets had taken a 10 point lead and it looked like the Hornets were likely to completely pull away from the Pistons to start the second half.
What was that I said earlier? Oh yeah. "That didn't happen." The Pistons opened the 2nd half with a barrage of three-pointers from Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. The Hornets weathered the storm, but the Pistons were finally getting good looks on the offensive end thanks to the penetration of Will Bynum. The Pistons continued to go on runs, the Hornets continued to respond. It was theme for most of the game, but by the early 4th quarter the Hornets' ability to respond seemed to be withering and the Pistons seemed to be playing better and better on both sides of the ball. By the time Chris Paul came back in with 6 minutes left in the game the score was tied. Paul promptly hit a long three with the shot clock winding down. From there it looked like Paul and West might put it away but Detroit simply wouldn't crumble. Tayshaun Prince was excellent, and overall he had what I'm assuming is probably his best game of the season by a long shot. He finished with a Lebronesque line of 28 points (on 12 shots), 12 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 blocked shots. Ben Gordon, who couldn't hit a thing in the first half, was suddenly pouring it on, and finished with 25 points on 21 shots.
With just two minutes left in the game and the game still a dead heat, Emeka Okafor fouled out. Anything could have happened at that point, but Charlie Villanueva did the Hornets a favor by shanking two free throws. From there, Paul and West went to work, with West working the offensive glass and Paul slicing into the lane for a layup on one possession and drawing a two shot foul on the very next possession. Unfortunately Willie Green missed two of four free throws and then proceeded to leave Gordon wide open on the perimeter. Gordon hit the three and tied the game at 100 with 21.9 seconds left. On the ensuing possession Chris Paul dribbled the clock down to just a few seconds and drove in for the layup, only to have it blocked by Prince as time ran out. Paul probably should have made his move just a second or two earlier. As the Pistons color commentator correctly pointed out, with so little time left the Pistons knew Paul was going for the score and wouldn't be able to drop it off to a different Hornet in the lane.
In overtime, Gordon continued his hot shooting and regained the lead for the Pistons. For the Hornets it was West getting buckets, but as amazing West is he can only do so much. Monty apparently wanted to go to West every time down the floor. We've seen that before. Personally I think it's just too predictable. West is a bonafide all-star power forward, but he's not Dwyane Wade. Regardless the Hornets managed to stay in the game. Willie Green got away with a carry and Paul came up with a huge steal that led to two made David West free throws, putting the Hornets up by a single point with just 15 seconds left. It was all for naught unfortunately. Will Bynum once again showed his ability to get into the lane and the Pistons retook the lead. The Hornets still had a chance to win, but with 7.2 seconds left, Ariza had his inbounds pass to David West stolen by Jason Maxiell. Maxiell ran down the court and slammed the ball home. This is not the first time that Ariza has made a poor inbounds pass. I don't understand why he is continually given a task that he is quite obviously bad at. The Hornets got a chance to tie with 0.5 seconds left, but all that resulted was a very ugly Trevor Ariza three. If you read or participated in the game thread you know that a lot of people wanted to see Marcus in there at the end. Marcus didn't shoot well in his 12 minutes tonight, but I agree, I would have liked for him to be out there. Ariza is not a long range threat.
Overall West and Paul both had very nice games offensively, but no one else really did. Paul finished with 23 points on 16 shots and 10 assists while West had 32 points on 21 shots and 9 rebounds. Okafor was solid as well, scoring 13 points on 9 shots and grabbing 12 rebounds. His absence down the stretch hurt. Outside of those guys the offense wasn't good, but the 105.8 points per 100 possessions the Hornets scored tonight is actually above their season average. It was basically in line with what we have come to expect. The bigger problem was the defensive collapse that occurred in the 2nd half. The Hornets, a team that usually gives up just 101 points per 100 possessions, gave up nearly 109 to the Pistons, a team that averages just 104 on most nights. Ultimately though I think it's safe to say it was a mediocre performance on both ends.
I really thought the past two games might signal the start of a very nice run, but apparently not. The Hornets will have to play on the road again tomorrow night as they get to reunite with Darren Collison and James Posey in Indiana. Indiana is certainly no pushover (although neither is Detroit I guess, even though they should be). They are a hair under .500, but they play solid defense and seem to have improved since last season. We'll see what happens.