For one half, the battle between the respective leaders of each NBA conference resulted in a virtual draw. Unfortunately for New Orleans, the second half was a completely different story. After taking a 60-56 advantage into the locker room Friday at Boston, the Hornets were dominated by the Celtics in the second half, by a 56-32 margin.
New Orleans (49-22) had its five-game winning streak snapped by league-leading Boston (57-15). The Celtics shot 59.5 percent from the field in one of the Hornets’ poorest defensive performances in recent weeks. Give Boston credit though, for repeatedly creating good looks at the basket and penetrating New Orleans’ defense at will. If you take away Boston’s 4-for-16 night from three-point range, the Celtics made 40 of 58 two-point shots, a roughly 70 percent clip.
The Hornets dropped to 2-1 on the current six-game road trip and will be back at it Sunday night in Toronto, prior to Tuesday and Wednesday trips to Orlando and Miami.
Five topics after the 20-point defeat in Massachusetts:
1) A rarity: New Orleans bench outplays starters.
The Hornets have had one of the most effective starting fives in the league this season. At times, particularly early in 2007-08, that meant reduced minutes for the reserves, who struggled in November and December. On Friday, the backups actually were more effective than the first five. After the Hornets fell behind in the first quarter, second-unit guys Bonzi Wells (13 points, 7 rebounds) and Jannero Pargo (8 points) helped the visitors grab a halftime lead. However, in the third quarter, with the starters back on the floor, Boston took control again, holding a 32-15 edge in that game-changing period. The plus-minus stats for every Hornets starter was minus-12 or worse on this night.
2) Unheralded Boston point guard solid vs. Hornets.
Second-year starter Rajon Rondo was supposed to be the weak link in the Celtics’ star-studded lineup this season, but he’s been up to the task of running the NBA’s best team. Against New Orleans and MVP candidate Chris Paul, he was extremely effective for a second straight time, notching 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting. Last week in the Big Easy, he had 23 points and was the primary reason Paul was in foul trouble all game long. Over the two head-to-head matchups, Rondo averaged 20 points. Paul did have 22 points and 10 assists Friday.
3) The buzz on... Morris Peterson.
New Orleans’ starting shooting guard logged 16 minutes Friday and has continued to see less playing time as the season has progressed. Among the playoff-bound NBA teams, Peterson probably plays fewer minutes than just about any regular. He’s sporting his lowest overall field-goal percentage (41.1) in four seasons, but his 37.9 rate from three-point range means defenses must respect him on the perimeter.
Although Bonzi Wells has consistently played more than Peterson over the past couple weeks, Wells appears to be a good fit chemistry-wise off the Hornets’ bench. If you moved Wells to the starting lineup, he might not get as many shots as he does in his current role. As a result, the Hornets wouldn’t be able to capitalize as much on Bonzi’s strengths as a go-to scorer and post-up option.
4) The buzz on... backup center.
There are essentially three candidates vying for minutes behind Tyson Chandler right now at second-string center: Chris Andersen, Melvin Ely and Hilton Armstrong. Andersen has been extremely active in the three games he played this week, but is still trying to get acclimated to being back on the floor. Andersen has a total of one rebound and three points in 25 minutes of action (his 12 minutes Friday were the most he’s played in a game).
Meanwhile, Ely has been on the 12-player active list but not getting on the floor much. He did not play Wednesday or Friday, after logging eight minutes at Indiana. Armstrong is currently the furthest down the depth chart of the trio. The second-year UConn product has joined Rasual Butler on the two-player inactive list for three straight games. Armstrong’s last multi-minute appearance was March 12 vs. San Antonio.
5) Blog question of the night: Who's more deserving of the NBA's Executive of the Year award, Jeff Bower or Danny Ainge?
Friday's game pitted the league's two most improved teams, a pair of clubs that were built by the two leading candidates for top exec in 2007-08. Ainge's transformation of the Celtics could be classified as an "overnight" success. After the additions of All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in summer 2007, Boston now has the NBA's best record after being the second-worst club last season. Meanwhile, as Bob Licht discussed in "In the Lane," Bower has made a combination of savvy trades (Tyson Chandler) and free-agent signings (Peja Stojakovic). New Orleans was 18-64 just three seasons ago, but is the current leader in the Western Conference and has the NBA's third-best record.