Thunder (25-7), Hornets (7-24)
It was over when
Russell Westbrook made two free throws with 22 seconds remaining, giving Oklahoma City a three-possession edge at 101-93. There were actually numerous moments earlier in the game when the outcome seemed decided, but New Orleans refused to give in after trailing by as many as 26 points against the Western Conferences current No. 1 team. The Hornets were down 60-38 at halftime but outscored the Thunder 55-41 after intermission. The loss ended New Orleans three-game winning streak and began the clubs only back-to-back-to-back of 2011-12, which continues Tuesday at Indiana.
Hornets MVP: He didnt have a great game from start to finish, struggling with his shooting touch early like many of his teammates, but Jarrett Jack personified the Hornets relentlessness Monday. Jack spearheaded NOLAs comeback attempt in the fourth quarter by dropping in 11 of his team-best 18 points. He also handed out five assists to go with five rebounds.
Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Like Jack, Al-Farouq Aminu was instrumental in making this a competitive game with a few precarious late moments for the Thunder. Aminu led the Hornets in plus-minus on Monday at +7, highlighted by 16 points and six rebounds.
The buzz on
Hornets small forward. Although every position on this team has been affected in some way by injuries, the 3 spot has been mostly at full strength in 2011-12, other than an eight-game stretch when Trevor Ariza was sidelined with a groin strain. In his second year with the Hornets, Ariza was off to a sluggish start but has steadily increased his effectiveness in recent weeks, shooting much better while delivering his usual blend of sticky defense and hustle. Unfortunately for Ariza, on several nights he has played to the point of exhaustion (averaging a team-most 35.5 minutes), but ultimately the Hornets came up a basket or two shy of victory. The backup at this position, Aminu, started five times during Arizas absence. As Monty Williams has described, Aminu is the kind of player who will drive you crazy, combining promising play with error-filled stretches. For example, in one recent sequence against Portland, Aminu drilled a clutch three-pointer, but then made a needless foul in the final minute given the game situation. Including Mondays 16-point showing, hes scored in double figures three times over the last eight games, earning him more minutes despite the fact that Ariza has been playing well. Due to widespread injuries, Aminu has sometimes been shifted to power forward in small lineups.