It's been so long since I last rooted for the Hornets this completely.
Forgetting for a minute, the victory itself, just to fully appreciate every Jason Smith jumper and Chris Kaman block and Jarrett Jack crossover was freeing. And then there was the small matter of the game being absolutely stellar - from Samuel L. Jackson's Pulp Fiction inspired introduction (I'm absolutely saving his Hornets-themed monologue for the next time we're in the playoffs) to Chris Kaman repeatedly pummeling Blake Griffin in the face every time he attempted an overly ambitious dunk (more specifically on the Jason Smith tackle tomorrow) to the team's clutch defense. It all happened.
For one night, the impact of a win on lottery position didn't matter in the slightest. Yes, Chris Paul did a lot for this franchise and won't ever be forgotten, but beating him was pretty fantastic. Yes, his reasons for choosing to leave may have been worth considering, but ultimately, he chose another team. And we stomped that team in the fourth quarter tonight.
- Let's start with the game's MVP - Monty Williams. Plenty of solid performances to go around (that we'll get to in a minute), but the fact that a 10 win side is playing this hard on a nightly basis is just all sorts of ridiculous. The Hornets had two huge reasons to get up tonight of course (Chris Paul and his invisible twin Jarvis Paul who is actually responsible for most of the dribbling moves more conventionally seen as "magic") but they made that effort count doubly with a dogged adherence to the defensive game plan.
On the night, New Orleans held the Clippers (normally a 107.6 ORtg team, fifth in the league) to 90 points on 88 possessions, good for a 102.2 ORtg (somewhere around 24th in the league). And this was despite some absolutely atrocious defensive box outs from the likes of Gustavo Ayon and Chris Kaman who've normally been pretty reliable with that kind of thing. In fact, if you take away the Clippers' 25 second chance points on 22 extra plays via offensive rebounds, the Hornets' defensive efficiency (which is the same as the Clips' ORtg, ahhh!!) improves from the earlier 102.2 to 98.8.
Needless to say, that is phenomenal. That's poorer offense than the Hornets, on average, manage. So, much respect to Monty Williams. Again. In the summer of 2010, eight new coaches were hired. Our opponents tonight may well have hired the worst of the bunch but thankfully, we got one of the best.
- /checks if Kurt Rambis was hired in 2010.
/as you were.
- New Orleans' one-two punch at shooting guard was one of the deciding factors in this game. (Don't go back and re-read that sentence or your head might explode). Marco Belinelli made the most of the set plays called for him in Monty's very structured offense for the starters, his overall line (15/5/4) was among the most balanced we've ever gotten from him, and he even chipped in a couple of highly athletic, acrobatic finishes. I've bagged on him quite a bit this year, but I still think his contract is not a horrible one if he makes his open shots. And when he makes his shots, he's still a very easy person to root for.
- Xavier Henry is now shooting 6 for 13 from three (47%). This is the part where I remind you that this could be just as illusory as his 2 for 17 performance a year ago (12%). But as I've long maintained, I really believe this year's version is a far closer estimation of the real Henry than his injury plagued rookie year. Henry had 12 points on 4 shots (really!) and generally just oozed confidence all over the floor and into the stands. I have no problem with Monty continuing to start Belinelli simply because the playcalling for the starters is so heavily scripted (and Marco has worked, often successfully, within those sets for two years now). Hopefully we keep getting some big minutes for X too.
- There is zero question in my mind that the 2008 Hornets would have flattened these Clippers. Swept them in a four game series. Punked them, tapped them on the cheek, and watched them fail to respond. 2008 Chris Paul eats this version alive, Morris Peterson shot about as well as any of L.A.'s current assortment of random shooters and defended better than all of them. Peja Stojakovic posted arguably the most productive three point shooting season in league history. David West probably loses the individual battle with Griffin, but the synergy between 08 Paul and West can't really be compared to what Paul and Griffin have going now. And if people called DeAndre Jordan the poor man's Tyson Chandler at the beginning of the year, they should have him downgraded to the homeless man's by now (nowhere close defensively).
That's what makes the Chris Paul trade so weird. He was moved somewhere that objectively isn't that much better than the '09 or '11 Hornets. Even if the Clippers fired Vinny Del Negro today, the mid-season replacement would likely just be a promotion for Marc Iavaroni off the bench. Does that change anything? I strongly doubt it.
And who transforms this into a solid defensive side over the summer? (They're certainly not lacking on the offensive side at all, ranking 5th in the league despite a pretty bad recent slump). D'Antoni doesn't. McMillan doesn't. Lots of questions in Clipperville. Also, one other thing to consider. If this year's draft, Eric Gordon's free agency, and the ownership situation go well and we're in position to conceivably amnesty Okafor at some point, guess who'll have enough money to offer a max deal next summer?
- Jarrett Jack really hasn't gotten enough respect for his play this season. The AP recap of this game is my favorite; after focusing on Chris Paul's homecoming, his reaction to the boos, his stat line, his reaction to Jason Smith, and his stance on pouring the milk or cereal first, it ends, simply, with this:
"Jack outscored him by 1 and matched his nine assists."
Jack's quietly gotten the job done all year, inasmuch as there's a "job" for anyone to really do on a team this bad, but no matter. He's gone from a good backup to a strong contender as a top-20 point guard for me.
- The forward rotation ended up a bit weird, with Trevor Ariza's injury limiting his time, Gustavo Ayon's early ineffectiveness (against the massive Jordan/Griffin/Evans front court) ostensibly factoring into his lack of late ones, and Lance Thomas cleaning up the minutes of both. Aminu was typical Aminu, which at this point isn't a compliment.
- Greivis Vasquez's no look bounce pass through two passing lanes into the paint in the fourth quarter. Chris Paul might not have seen that one.
- Chris Kaman's offense was at once very pleasing and absolutely terrifying. Tips for next time - keep the making every jump shot part and lose the throwing the ball into the fifth row at halfcourt part. Oh also, the rejecting Blake Griffin with one hand while rejecting his face with the other? Yes, please keep that part too.
- Jason Smith had 17 points and 8 rebounds on 10 shots, higher than David West's season averages in each of those categories. Yes, he did the Very Naughty thing towards the end, for which he most definitely deserved his ejection. More on this tomorrow. But at the same time, he didn't put Griffin in huge danger. Smith was clearly attempting to smash into Griffin during the gather stage of the move, ensuring that Griffin was never going to get into the air in the first place. Still, he deserves whatever punishment is deemed appropriate by the league/his owner because it wasn't a play on the ball in the slightest.
And Greivis Vasquez trying to claim the foul on the play just absolutely slays me.
- Chris Johnson is a very, very, very thin individual.