Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Statement Game

New Orleans 113 | Boston 106
[league standings]

Since March 12, the Hornets have wins against the Spurs, the Lakers, the Rockets, and the Celtics (ok, and the Bulls; but that doesn't really inform what I'm about to say). Within that stretch, they also lost a not-even-remotely-close game against the Pistons. My point? In the span of ten days the Hornets went 4-1 against the toughest and highest seeded teams from both conferences (with the exception of Utah... who will be a 4 seed almost by default due to the sluggishness of their division). That's an unbelievable statement to anyone who doubts the abilities of this team. I know the playoffs haven't happened yet, and I know this team still has a lot to prove, but let's face it, they're winning. And they're winning against good teams. In fact, it seems like every game I've been to in the past few weeks has been "the greatest game ever!". It's like Christmas every damn day. It's fantastic.

However, this win in particular is quite exciting. I was hoping we'd have a chance to play the Celtics earlier in the season; the thought being that wouldn't have gelled yet. That particular line of logic proved to be stupid, as it took the Boston didn't lose it's tenth game until February 19. So, knowing that "chemistry" and "gel-ingness" was not an issue (for them, at least), my worries to shifted to the probable player matchups. My main concern was that Peja was going to have to cover Paul Pierce. Normally we would slide Mo Pete over to cover small forwards that go to town on Peja, but that whole Ray Allen thing screwed up that approach. This fear was further compounded during the game by the fact that (A) Kevin Garnett boxed D.West out of every rebound ever and (B) Rajon Rondo ended up being much better at the point than I expected. Hell, I can't lie; I love his style of play. He's quick, he's aggressive, he drives, he drains threes, and he is pretty good at exploiting the ridiculous amount of double teams on the big three. As scary as all of this was, nothing could have prepared me for the first three quarters of this game.

All season, I've been saying this: if any team wants to beat us, all they have to do is get in Chris Paul's head. Force him to make bad plays or force him into foul trouble. Because if you can't manage that, you'll just have to pray that one of our jump shooters is firing bricks. It's true. My brother points it out all the time: we run every play through CP3. Hell, he's probably calling plays from the bench. If you can't trip up his game, you've got no hope. The Celtics... they tripped up his game.

Paul was limited to 29 minutes of play due to foul trouble (compared to the 37.5 minutes he averages this season). It was completely frustrating. The combination of Rondo's aggressive play and the Celtic's stellar defense was forcing Paul to make bad plays. Additionally, Boston's just-as-stellar offense exacerbated the scenario, and it was visibly frustrating for Paul (and for all of us in the stands). For a moment in time, Doc Rivers looked like a genius... nah! Just kidding. Doc Rivers couldn't out-think a cocker spaniel, let alone have the foresight to write any play whatsoever. KG and Pierce run that team. It was probably their idea. Doesn't matter. It worked.

For a while at least. Then the Hornet's bench came alive, mainly in the form of Jannero Pargo (15 points, 6 assists) and Bonzi Wells (13 points and 8 steals). I'm actually convinced that Bonzi single handedly saved this game on account of his sticky fingers. Nevertheless, the bench was able to score fairly well and kept the gap at/around 10 points all the way through the third. When Paul returned in the third he only had 7 points and 2 assists, but he would would finish the game with 19 and 7. Add that to D.West's 37 points and... Boom! Tag it and bag it.

A friend of mine, Ron Hitley, who runs Hornets 24/7 has a nice entry that covers the steadily increasing attendance (scroll down for the graph) as well as a worthwhile youtube clip.

In case anyone out there is wondering how to beat the Celts without any of the Hornets on your roster, consider booing Boston for a whole quarter. That's right. Similar to our strategy against the Spurs, Hornets fans booed the Celtics for almost ten straight minutes of regulation play. The fans were already restless by the time the third ended, feeling as though the refs had unfairly targeted CP3 and managed to forget about KG, so the booing came naturally. However, the catalyst went a little something like this: Paul steals the ball, fastbreaks to the paint, and then kicks it out to Peja for an open trey. Peja drains it. Three points? Nope. Paul is called for an offensive foul, after passing the ball, for running into one Rajon Rondo (who was in motion). The refs called back the three, the fans (all 18,200 of them) went to work. And you know what? The Celtics couldn't focus (honestly, who could focus under such a barrage of negative energy). Done and done. It's an effective strategy considering it held the Spurs to 10 points and the Celtics to 17... just a thought.

The "W" puts the reinstates the Hornets as the 1 seed in the western conference and put us into the 2 slot in both Stein's and's power rankings... second to the Celtics. We'll see what happen in the rematch on Friday.


The next home game isn't until April 4 (almost two weeks). Expect coverage of the away games over that stretch, but don't expect it to be sober since we have find bars for this wretched [read "expensive"] entity that is NBA League Pass. Cheers!

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