In its first matchup of the season against the NBA’s best team Saturday, New Orleans trailed Boston 89-81 through three quarters. The way things have been going for the Hornets lately, they had the Celtics right where they wanted them.
For the third straight home game this week, New Orleans dominated the fourth quarter, outscoring Boston 32-17 over the final 12 minutes to secure a comeback victory. The Hornets (47-21) were down by as many as 15 points to the Celtics (55-14) in the first half.
After a porous first-half defensive performance that surrendered 65 Boston points, New Orleans put the clamps down after intermission. Bonzi Wells spearheaded the Hornets’ defense by registering eight steals. The Celtics coughed up 14 turnovers in the second half alone, suffering their only loss of a four-game road trip that previously stopped in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas.
“I don’t know what has gotten into us in these fourth quarters,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “Guys just buckled down and challenged every shot. In the first half, the Celtics were able to get layups and wide-open shots. In the second half, we did a very good job of making sure they didn’t those easy buckets.”
Scott was asked in his postgame interview if the Hornets are now playing like the best team in the league right now. “I think we’re playing like ONE of the best,” Scott responded.
Five observations from the seven-point victory:
1) The best power forward on the floor Saturday wore a Hornets uniform.
David West nearly doubled MVP candidate Kevin Garnett’s scoring output, piling up 37 points (KG had 19) on 15-for-25 shooting. In typical David West fashion, his 37-point outing was described as a “quiet 37” by Scott, who did not realize the Xavier (Ohio) product was having such a big game until he looked up at the scoreboard late in the game and saw '35' next to West’s name while West was shooting free throws.
2) Hornets withstand persistent Chris Paul foul trouble.
Every time you turned around Saturday, CP3 was getting whistled for another personal foul that put him temporarily out of the game or in jeopardy of Scott having to sub him off the floor. For a player as active and aggressive defensively as Paul is, it’s surprising that he doesn’t battle this more often, but he rarely seems to get in foul trouble. Facing Rajon Rondo (23 points) this game, Paul got his third foul in the first half – forcing his exit – and his fifth foul in the third quarter, leading to another stay on the bench.
Of course, Paul managed to drill numerous big baskets upon his return in the fourth quarter. He finished with 19 points and seven assists in only 30 minutes of action.
3) The buzz on… Jannero Pargo.
Speaking of Paul’s foul trouble, Pargo was the main reason why New Orleans didn’t fall apart with its best player sidelined. The 6-foot-1 backup guard has had a very rough March, shooting 29.4 percent from the field entering Saturday’s game. Against Boston though, he made several huge shots, scoring 15 points in 21 minutes, on 6-for-10 shooting, including three three-pointers.
It was great to see Pargo’s confidence soar in the fourth quarter. He received a well-deserved ovation when he was inevitably replaced by Paul with 5:20 left in the fourth quarter.
4) The buzz on… Bonzi Wells.
The 6-foot-5 swingman continues his recent 180. Wells was injured or ineffective in the games immediately after the trade, but has been fantastic this week. Wells had a 20-point fourth quarter against Houston three days ago, then followed that up with a 12-point, eight-steal, three-rebound game vs. Boston, in 26 minutes. Six of those thefts came during the fourth quarter.
Wells is still coming off the bench, but he’s played more minutes than starter Morris Peterson in every game of the current three-game winning streak.
“Bonzi’s been unbelievable,” Scott described when asked about his reserves. “Julian (Wright) has been playing well. One thing I said was that if we can get (Pargo) back to the way he had been playing, then we know we’ve got three guys we can really, really count on (off the bench).”
“Coach is starting to show more confidence in me,” Wells said, when asked to account for his improved play. “That gives me more confidence.”
5) Blog question of the night: What do you consider to be the Hornets’ best win of 2007-08?
New Orleans has been the NBA’s biggest surprise this season, going from a club projected to potentially miss the postseason, to one that has a shot at the No. 1 seed in the ultra-competitive West. The Hornets have had countless attention-grabbing wins this season, including Saturday’s over Boston. Which one of the 47 would you pick as New Orleans’ most impressive victory this season?