The Hornets fought valiantly but could not execute well enough in crunch time to pull out a win over the second best team in the East. The Hornets and Bulls would trade leads for most of the game as the Bulls starters would build a lead that the Bulls bench would give right up. The Hornets bench played really well led by some really efficient play from Xavier Henry. The Bulls looked to control the game after Thibodeau put his starters back in after a short rest in the fourth, but the Hornets would not give up easily. A 13-0 run put the Hornets up 4 with a little over a minute left, but didn't score again for the rest of the game, while the Derrick Rose scored 4 of the 6 Bulls points to take the lead (and caused the 5 and 6 after drawing attention that allowed for a Joakim Noah tip-in). Rose also came up big on the Hornets final offensive possession that mattered, when he stayed with Jarrett Jack step for step after a fake pick and roll type play to free Jack up for the drive. More thoughts and player notes after the jump.
The Bulls looked to expose Chris Kaman in pick and roll defense late, as they repeatedly would get him guarding Rose on a switch, which ended about as well as you'd imagine. I would have liked to see a trap after Rose had scored consistently off of the switch, but that is no guarantee as Rose could dump the ball off to Noah rather easily and Noah is a good passer. Honestly I don't expect anyone to shut down Rose, but I would have liked to see some different looks thrown at him. I expected to see Ariza at least late in the game, but I don't recall seeing that once all game. Especially on a night when "All-Star" Luoll Deng couldn't hit a thing, I think this would have been worth a try. Again, no one is going to figure Rose out, but I have to think anything was better than letting Kaman guard him on an island.
Speaking of Kaman, he had another great game in the box score, and actually had a good game in general. His interior defense was good all game. Noah got some easy dunks on his watch, but most of that was due to Kaman having to help on Rose as he had dribbled right past the Hornets guards. His offense was typically inefficient, but I doubt anyone is surprised at that (or the 4 turnovers) by now. One thing I was surprised by was the 5 assists he finished with, as sometime in the fourth, Chris decided to stop throwing the ball out of bounds and start dropping dimes all over the place. Kaman was instrumental in the Hornets' 13-0 run in the fourth, during which he had 3 of his assists and his one block. As I'm sure we'll realize once Okafor is back as the lone center on the team, there's no replacement for 7 feet of big dude in the middle.
EDIT: I somehow forgot Trevor Ariza. Apologies. Ariza was back to his stat-stuffing self after an off-night in Cleveland. Trevor finished with 16 points on 12 shots, hit both his 3s and had 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and a block. This guy has simply done everything for this team lately. In February, he is averaging 14 points, 6 boards, 4 assists, and one block a game on 43%-35%-87% (fg-3p-ft) shooting. He also plays tremendous defense and typically guards the other team's best wing player. Sounds like quite a starting SF, maybe even a top 10 SF. It remains to be seen whether Trevor has turned a corner or if this is just a hot streak, but I am enjoying the ride.
Quiet night from Marco Belinelli after his recent hot streak. He had 6 points on 7 shots. He did have the nice layup off the backdoor Kaman feed in the fourth.
Jarrett Jack had 10 points on 9 shots, hit both his 3s, and chipped in 4 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals, and a block. For the second straight game (at least), he came off the bench and played more minutes than starter Greivis Vasquez.
As I'm sure people will be blaming Jack for the last shot/play call, I'll give you my opinion. Attacking Rose is the right play. For all his athletic gifts, he is by far the least talented defender the Bulls had on the court at the time. The fake pick and roll play was to free up a driving lane for Jack all the way. Jack had a crack of daylight, but credit Rose for recovering and getting up a good challenge for Jack's layup. It was short and the Hornets lost. By contrast on Rose's jumper that gave the Bulls the lead was played perfectly by the Hornets, yet Rose just hit the shot. These things happen, and they're why the ball ends up in the best player's hands at the end of the game. Even with a brilliant play call, sometimes the defense is in place and a guy has to hit a tough shot. Rose is the Bulls' best player and he did so. Jack is probably the Hornets best offensive player and he could not.
The Hornets' starting PG, Greivis Vasquez had a decent game with 12 points on 10 shots to go with 2 boards and 3 assists. Credit to Greivis for only coughing up one turnover against one of the best defenses in the league. I love when Vasquez can use his size to score inside over smaller covers. The Hornets offense seemed to bog down in the second half with him in, which is probably why we saw so much Jack late. I expect we'll see a relatively even split of minutes at PG unless one of the guys is clearly out-performing the other.
Gustavo Ayon was pretty invisible (outside of a sweet pass for an Ariza corner 3) in his time out there until the 4th quarter, when he hit both of his FGs in the final 3 minutes. Huge shots from Ayon late in the game, though he had all kinds of trouble with the Bulls frontline all game. He was getting out-muscled by Boozer and was too slow to get around Taj Gibson. He did give some back to the Bulls as well, finishing with 3 blocks.
Xavier Henry played his best game as a Hornet as he continued attacking the basket, as he has done all season, but decided to hit his free throws tonight. He shot 7 freebies in just 18 minutes, knocking down 6 of them. That's pretty impressive. Now, he shot 3-10 from the field, but 12 points on 10 shots isn't all that bad. If he can start knocking down a few jumpers, this guy becomes a solid rotation player. If he can just start making his FTs, he improves his usefulness right now tremendously.
Solomon Jones played 20 minutes and was not terrible. He scored 10 points, all of which were drastically needed, though it did take him 10 shots to get there. Certainly not his worst showing, but I'm hoping his presence will be superfluous once Emeka Okafor returns.
Al-Farouq Aminu missed all of his FG attempts but he took a shot as a point forward, which should be terrifying, but the results were pretty good. Two drives that ended with two nice dishes, one to Lance Thomas for a dunk and the other to Solo Jones for a chip shot. Odd, but nice.
Fun game to watch, and a tough way to lose, but certainly not discouraging at all. This team is nowhere near full strength and just gave a heck of a game to a team that almost everyone believes will make the Eastern Conference Finals. This recent stretch of play makes me really curious as to how a fully healthy Hornets team would have looked this year. Monty has these guys playing all out in every game lately, and that is half of the battle of an NBA coach. That hasn't been enough to overcome the talent disparity on most nights, but that disaprity won't always be so large. Hornets return home (Hallelujah!) tomorrow night against the Toronto Raptors. Hope to see you in The Hive or here in the Game Thread.