New Orleans Hornets (31-28) 100 | Magic (39-20) 93
Wow. What a great game. And Aaron Gray just cemented himself as a fan favorite. Yeah, you read that right. David West's 40-10 is the story of the night, but Gray's defense, rebounding, and six points in the fourth quarter helped the Hornets to victory as much as anything.
The Hornets trailed 46-56 at the half. Instead of watching the team climb back from the deficit, we initially saw the Magic's guards get into the paint to score easy layups or dump off the ball to Dwight Howard for a dunk. After falling back by 18 points, the Hornets stormed back and absolutely dominated the Magic in the fourth quarter.
Following a late push, our boys were trailing 72-80 at the end of three quarters. And that set up the comeback. The Hornets scored the first nine points of the fourth to re-take the lead and provide fans with one hell of an exciting finish. Down by four and with the shot clock winding down, the Hornets were playing hot potato with the basketball. James Posey eventually tossed the ball to West who was at the top of the key. At that point, DX had scored 33 points in a variety of ways. Add a three pointer to the list. Nailed it with two seconds left on the shot clock. Hornets within one.
They stopped the Magic on the next possession, and Gray came up with the rebound. A fast break layup for West off a nice dish from Darren Collison, and we're up 81-80, with Orlando calling a timeout. And the crowd... goes... wild.
The Magic showed signs of life over the next few minutes, scoring their first points of the quarter four minutes into it. But the Hornets buckled down on defense, and the Magic started settling for (and, more importantly, missing) outside shots. Our boys built the lead up to ten, the Magic went into foul mode, and the fans went home happy.
More thoughts (and some interesting stats) after the jump.
- Looking at the fourth quarter comeback, that felt like a "vintage" 07-08 performance. On defense, the Hornets swarmed the Magic every trip down the court, contesting shots and forcing turnovers. And play like that, boys and girls, leads to easy offense. Everything seemed to be flowing for the home team. Really great to see the fans really getting into it, too. A nice "Let's Go Hornets" chant started in the section next to mine and spread throughout the Arena over the next 30-40 seconds. Awesome.
- By the numbers: through the first 11:09 of the fourth, the Hornets outscored the Magic 24-6. Absolutely dominant. The rest of the way, the Hornets scored 4 (on 4/6 free throw shooting from our rookies), the Magic scored 7 (in a rushed, last-ditch effort to save the game).
- During that same 11-minute stretch (you know, when the Magic scored only 6 points), Aaron Gray scored... wait for it... 6 points.
- I know I focused on the second half in the recap, but I really can't praise West enough for the overall game. He carried this team through two quarters (scoring 22 of the team's 46 first points) and kept things going in the second half. The man scored in every way he knows how: his bread-and-butter mid-range jumpers, driving layups, strong post moves, muscling through two defenders for short-range shots, and one HUGE three pointer.
- As mentioned above, DX finished with 40 points and 10 rebounds, plus 2 blocks and 1 assist. In franchise history, the Hornets have three 40-pt/10-reb games; all three belong to Mr. West.
- Aaron Gray. Go 'head, son. Great play from the Teddy Bear (tentative nickname... sorry, bud). When Okafor picked up his fourth foul, earning himself a trip to the bench, Gray subbed in... and I cringed at the thought of a Superman/Gray matchup, but he held his own -- and held Howard to 5 points and 2 rebounds over the final 19 minutes of action. He finished with 6 points and 7 rebounds of his own; all the scoring and most of the boards came in crucial second half minutes.
- Thanks to great efforts from Gray, West, and "Big Game" James Posey, the Bees actually outrebounded the Magic, 43-38. Much of that work was done in the fourth quarter.
- It's almost funny that I haven't even mentioned him until this point, but Marcus Thornton gave us a beautiful performance: 18 points on 14 shots, with 7 rebounds, an assist, and a steal.
- At the halftime shootaround, Howard launched a halfcourt hook shot. Immediately after that, Mickael Pietrus attempted a routine three pointer. Howard's heave came closer than Pietrus's shot. In the second half, Orlando's swingman took two shots: both three pointers, both bad misses. I actually like him a lot as a player. That's just not his game.