Saturday, March 1, 2008

Showcase and showdown

New Orleans 110 | Utah 98
[league standings]

The battle has been won. But the war... it's only beginning.

A whole nation was able to watch the Hornets on Friday. It was only their second appearance on national television this entire season. The time slot was actually slated to be a Wizards/Bulls game, but somebody at ESPN had the good sense to realize that no one wanted to watch two partially anemic franchises with little or no sense of direction battle for the chance to get knocked out of the playoffs by Detroit or Boston. And so it was. The cameras made their way to the Crescent City for what ended up being an exciting game between the two most hyped-up young points in the league.

Truthfully, I was a little concerned for the game karmically (it's a word... don't look it up) since CP3 was showcasing his new Air Jordan brand shoe. In fact, everyone on the team was sporting a new pair. It just seemed like the ego gods might not be smiling on such an event. Funny story: Paul actually slipped several time during the game prompting Al, the guy who sits next to us, to shout out things like "Nice shoes!" and "115 dollars and you can't even stand up". Classic.

The Hornets led for the entire game. There were absolutely zero lead changes. However, that lead shifted from 27 to 4 and all the way back. As a fan, this is the kind of game that is at once exhilarating and nerve-racking. Part of that emotion is owed to the Jazz who frequently looked as though they were going to overtake us. Anytime the lead dipped below 10, I panicked internally.

The Hornets jumped out to an early lead and completely dominated the first quarter. Kirilenko and Boozer got into early foul trouble, and the Hornets took full advantage of their absence, outscoring Utah 38 to 15 in the first 12 minutes. Two trends started after the first quarter: 1) The Hornets decided to stop rebounding, eventually losing that battle at 34 to 45. 2) The refs began whistling the softest fouls I've ever seen. I don't know if they felt the need to balance out the first quarter fouls on the Jazz or if they just forgot they were officiating a game, but it was starting to look like someone was getting paid off to make sure the game stayed close (most of those calls favored Mehmet Okur, a softer version of Dirk Nowitzki). I nearly had a conniption and we were up by 15. Despite the Jazz outscoring the Hornets in the second and third quarter, they were never able to close the gap from the first, and ultimately the Hornets prevailed. Done and done.

So what about the match-up? What about the reason everyone tuned into ESPN in the first place? What about CP3 versus D.Will? Let's take a look:

Chris Paul: 24 points, 16 assists, 4 rebounds, 5 steals, 1 turnover
Deron Williams: 22 points, 10 assists, 2 rebounds, 0 steals, 4 turnovers

Though Paul had the clear upper hand with his contributions, you'd be hard pressed to say that Deron played poorly. Both of those lines are quite impressive. Interestingly enough, CP3 put up most of his numbers in the first half (19 points, 9 assists), while Deron started slow (8 points, 4 assists) and heated up in the second half.

But let's get beyond the numbers... what did the match-up look like? I learned that Deron Williams is way faster than I thought he would be. And his height/size advantage on Paul allowed him to make strong moves into the paint; he frequently did this by sprinting from about half-court, using his momentum to blow right by Paul. Eventually, Byron rotated his defense so that Jannero would stay in Deron's face. He's no faster than Paul, but he has a slight height advantage and we care less if he fouls.

Here's the important thing: we match up extremely well with this team. Both teams spread the floor a lot for their shooters, they both have large jump-shooting guys from Eastern Europe (ok, Russia), they both have a big power forwards who make strong moves in the post (I drool a little every time I think of D.West matching up with Boozer in the playoffs), and they both feature young, talented, pass-first point guards. I'm so excited for the playoffs.

Actually, I've decided that if (by some insane act of Allah) we win the title, I won't feel that we've earned it unless we beat the Jazz in a series. Ok, so that isn't entirely true. Winning a title this year would require us to beat out the Grand-Theft-Spaniards, the Defending Champs, and whoever reigns supreme in the Detroit/Boston/Cleveland match-up. Did I mention I was excited for the playoffs? Because I'm terrified, too.


Great article about CP3 ran in ESPN the magazine. Curry and I are trying to get on his guest list, but C.J. won't take our calls. Rude.

No comments: