I'll be honest... I fully expected to be recapping a loss tonight. With the Hornets sliding, Ariza just coming back from injury and Emeka still out, it didn't feel like a good time to face the Magic with Dwight Howard and their third ranked defense. But the Hornets proved me wrong and pulled it out.
The first quarter saw Chris Paul looking like the Chris Paul we all know. He was looking to both score and pass, and he had a look on his face that made me think he might drop 30 at the very least. That turned out to be way off the mark, but it was Paul who kept the team competitive even with Dwight Howard dominating on the other end. The second quarter came and it turned into the Jarrett Jack show. We've all been pretty down on Jack, and for good reason, but he was crucial tonight. He was, for once, hitting his shots and scoring points with high efficiency. While many people complain that Jack hasn't played well as a passer and playmaker, the fact is his AST% of 23.1 is just a hair under his career average of 23.6. This is something Rohan pointed out in the game thread, and as Rohan said these are decent marks for a backup PG. Jack's real downfall with the Hornets has been his horrid shooting. Tonight it was a different story as Jack went for 13 points on 6 shots. His play was a big reason the Hornets found themselves up 61-52 at halftime.
I didn't expect the Hornets to hang on to that lead, and they didn't. With the third quarter, the pace of play increased, Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkgolu (among others) started splashing jumpshots, and the Chris Paul of the first half was nowhere to be found. The result was a tie game (80-80) going into the fourth. At that point it really looked like things might completely fall apart. Thank heavens for David Andersen and Willie Green. Yeah, I mean that. Had those two guys had off nights, we definitely would have seen a fourth quarter collapse. Thankfully, they were hitting, the defense tightened, and all that was required down the stretch was some free throws and Ariza pushing Jason Richardson away from an inbounds pass to ice the game for the Hornets.
Some bullet points:
- I might as well get this one out of the way first: A DNP-CD for Marcus tonight. A bit strange when you consider Marcus had one of his better games of the season against the Magic.
- On the other hand, Willie Green was great on offense tonight.10-20 shooting for 24 points. 20 shots might be a bit much, but he was really in rhythm- coming off the screen from midrange he was unstoppable. So far the Willie Green as a starter experiment has been pretty successful.
- David West had to work to get his points tonight, but work he did. 17 points on 13 shots, 17 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and not a single turnover. That's a beautiful stat line. West has really stepped up his rebounding in the absence of Emeka.
- The speculation as to whether or not something is wrong with Chris Paul is going to continue. His game was off in the second half as I mentioned above. That used to be a very rare occurrence.
- Ariza reminded us what he's all about: 10 points on 4-16 shooting! Still, I'm really glad to have him back for his perimeter defense, even if it wasn't up to snuff tonight (Turkoglu went 7-10 for 16 points).
- Aaron Gray is fun to watch, because he looks alternately completely lost and thoroughly dominant.