In these post-lockout times of chaos and confusion, steady coaching and commitment to a tested gameplan will go a long way. In Monty Williams, the New Orleans Hornets have both those things. Monty successfully experimented with a number of different lineup combinations and offensive sets while sticking to the rock solid Hornets' defensive gameplan of a year ago - force penetrating guards towards paint defenders and rotate defensive help regardless of position. The Hornets ultimately took advantage of the absence of Paul Pierce, stifling any Celtic shots in the paint, and got huge contributions from the positions that carried them from 2005 to 2011 - point guard and power forward.
- One of the bigger storylines was the Chris Kaman - Emeka Okafor pairing. Both players got significant minutes together in the second and third quarters. Defensively, it worked a lot better than it would appear on paper. Kaman seemed to be primarily responsible for Garnett when he was on the floor with Oak, and had no trouble tracking him as KG floated beyond midrange. Kaman also used his length very well, closing down passing lanes and even knocking down an inbounds pass for a turnover at one point. The big downside to the duo defensively was, as Monty Williams alluded to before the season, their relative immobility. It led to a pair of defensive 3 second calls (as well as at least one missed one). Overall though, the positives far outweighed the negatives. This could indeed be a viable defensive frontcourt, and the fact that Kaman's midrange game looks on point only puts it over the top. Hopefully we see it again next time out.
- The Celtics went to a zone defense midway through the third quarter after using it to erase a 20+ point deficit against the Miami HEAT last night. The Hornets actually combated it very well though by passing around the perimeter; as soon as a player had a moment to hesitate and fake a rotating defender, he took it and drove aggressively into the lane. Ariza, Belinelli, and Jack all did it perfectly, and the Celtics went away from the full on zone rather quickly.
- Tommy Heinsohn is a flaming imbecile.
- A small but smart defensive play worth highlighting: at 1:46 in the 3rd, Boston called for a Daniels post-up play on the offensive end out of a Hornets timeout. They cleared the floor entirely, putting Daniels on the low left block, isolated on Belinelli; Daniels had already scored on a post play in the first half. Belinelli denied Daniels by fronting him for a good ten seconds, staying in front even when Daniels tried to reset. By the time Boston realized they had to look elsewhere, it was too late, and Trevor Ariza blocked a desperate Allen three from the weakside.
- Jarrett Jack absolutely schooled Rajon Rondo offensively; Rondo had no chance of staying in front of Jack on a number of possessions curiously, and Jack got into the paint at will. Jack's go to moves are the right hand to left hand crossover and the flat footed runner. Sound familiar? (other than the flat footed part?) Jack's a league average guard who has the ability to play much, much better than that on occasion, and this won't be the last time we see him play this well.
- Greivis Vasquez is REALLY solid in the half transition - not full out fast breaks, but pushing up the floor despite three or four defenders getting back. He set up a number of teammates in these situations and did a great job finishing his running floater shot. As I mentioned Monday, Vasquez's big challenge this season will be ball control. If he takes care of the ball, he can be a very valuable piece. Tonight? Zero turns alongside some creative playmaking.
- The Hornets started with Marco Belinelli chasing Ray Allen around screens, but at some point, Trevor Ariza was flipped back onto him. Allen eventually got his numbers through the course of the game, but many of his threes came off broken plays where the ball just happened to come back out to him. Otherwise, Ariza did a decent job contesting his shots, which is impressive considering individual man defense (and not off ball, screen-fighting) is his real strength.
- Carl Landry! 20 points on 12 shots, 11 rebounds (5 offensive), and a strong showing on the defensive end. How can you not root for The Tooth?
- This was a slow, grinding game at 84 possessions for each team. As much turnover as we had over the summer, two things will remain exactly the same season - the defense and the offensive style and pace.
- One thing that's changed already and will continue to change is the fundamental offensive system. When Monty Williams took over the Hornets last summer, the team already had a firmly entrenched system in place - Chris Paul pick and roll with West, Chris Paul pick and roll with Okafor, Chris Paul pick and roll with .. etc. It worked because Chris Paul is the greatest pick and roll practitioner the sport has ever seen. But it also stunted offensive play in all other areas. When a team trapped Chris Paul high up the court and forced him to give it up (this happened quite often throughout last season), there really wasn't a secondary offense to speak of, unless you count "Willie Green isolation" or "Trevor Ariza isolation" as secondary offenses. The variations Monty Williams used to get both Okafor and Landry looks in the paint tonight (outside of the straight Jack penetrations) were nice to see.
- Granted, Chris Kaman bailed the team out a number of times with his hesitation mid-range game. I'd advise the team not to count on it long term, but... Kaman's percentages from beyond 15 feet the last 4 years have gone thusly: 45%, 41%, 42%, 44%. Downright Westian.
- Squeaky Johnson got in late and set up a couple free throws for Lance Thomas (missed both). Viva La Squeaky!