UPDATE: Hornets will play San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs. Game 1 is scheduled for Saturday in the New Orleans Arena, with start time TBA.
For the first time since they moved to Louisiana, the New Orleans Hornets have advanced to the second round of the playoffs. For the first time in the teams 20-year history, it has won a best-of-seven series. New Orleans, predicted by the majority of analysts to lose this first-round series, instead eliminated Dallas in five games. Prior to tonight, the Hornets had dominated in each of their victories. They looked to be on their way to another one-sided triumph over the Mavericks in Game 5, but the visitors mounted a significant late fourth-quarter rally that put a scare into the Hornets and newly-named NBA Coach of the Year Byron Scott. We always talk about how the last win of a series is the toughest one to get, Scott said. Dallas had no quit in them. You have to give them a lot of credit.
New Orleans fans were ready to celebrate when Julian Wrights layup gave the home team an 86-70 lead with just 5:37 remaining, but Dallas put together a furious comeback attempt, sparked by three Devean George three-pointers. George hadnt played at all in the first three quarters.
Part of the talk after the game centered on the motivation the Mavericks and others had provided to the Hornets. Dallas added fuel to the no respect angle before the series even began, when star forward Dirk Nowitzki said he wanted to avoid the Lakers in the first round, meaning he essentially preferred to play the Hornets. Then, when national websites such as ESPN.com unveiled their NBA first-round playoff predictions, it became clear that seventh-seeded Dallas was favored, despite New Orleans status as a No. 2 seed in what had been one of the most competitive conferences in league history.
At the beginning of the series, there werent a whole lot of people who picked us to win it, Scott said. Especially to win it in five (games). Im very proud of the way our guys handled the adversity, as far as people doubting us. They came out to try to prove everybody wrong. Their focus has been fantastic.
We proved our critics wrong, and also (proved the Mavericks) wrong, Morris Peterson said. Before the series, they were saying they wanted to play us. I guess they got what they wanted.
With the first-round victory over the Mavericks in the books, a look at how each Hornets player fared in the series:
Chris Paul: This is how well CP3 performed in his playoff debut: Dallas coach Avery Johnson compared him to Hall of Fame guard and all-time great Nate Archibald, and no one thought Johnson was being overly complimentary. Paul averaged 24.6 points, 12.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 5.6 rebounds in the series, setting an aggressive tone by flourishing in Game 1 and 2. He shot 50 percent from the field and 81 percent from the foul line. The notion that the 35-year-old Jason Kidds edge in savvy and experience would create a formidable task for Paul was out the window by the third quarter of the series opener.
Morris Peterson: His overall averages dont blow you away in the series (7.2 points, 2.0 rebounds), but considering he only played 19 minutes per game, he was an efficient player. Mo Pete shot 57.7 percent from the floor, which led the Hornets.
Peja Stojakovic: Played his customary role to a T, connecting on 60.7 percent of his three-point attempts (17-for-28). He continues to provide back-breaking perimeter shots and demonstrate why New Orleans was willing to make such a major investment in him as a free agent during summer 2006.
David West: Another step in becoming recognizable to fans other than the diehards (like me) who subscribe to NBA League Pass. Whenever the Hornets needed a basket, they went to the All-Star power forward, who usually delivered. Hes always been a solid offensive rebounder, but he seemed to really hurt the Mavericks, who did not have the bulk to keep him off the boards. West finished with averages of 22.6 points and 7.4 rebounds, while shooting 48 percent from the field and 96 percent from the line.
Tyson Chandler: Its a good sign for New Orleans that its 7-foot-1 center and often third-best player had a so-so series, yet the Hornets still ended it in five games. He averaged double digits during the regular season, but was down to 7.2 points per in this series and struggled with foul trouble, picking up 19 personals. He hasnt had many stretches of three straight quiet games, so it was no surprise that he responded Tuesday with a 10-point, 14-rebound outing.
Jannero Pargo: Without poring over the stats of the other seven NBA playoff series, I venture to say hes been the most valuable reserve on any team during the first round. He was huge, consistently draining deep shots against the 24-second clock. He piled up 30 points in Game 3 and was the teams fourth-leading scorer in the series at 14.6 points per game. His stats are up across the board from what he did in the regular season, with huge jumps in field-goal percentage and three-point percentage. He shot so well that he connected on 51 percent overall after a 1-for-9 Game 1 performance.
Julian Wright: The best news regarding the rookie from Kansas is that you can continue to see a clearer picture of why Hornets GM Jeff Bower was ecstatic that Wright dropped to the No. 13 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Wright had one of his best games of the entire season in Game 4 and was a defensive force in Game, picking up three steals. Whenever this Hornets season comes to an end, hes going to be one reason why fans will be anxiously anticipating the start of 2008-09.
Bonzi Wells: His impact decreased as the series progressed, culminating with him playing 10 minutes in Game 5. Part of that was due to matchups. It will be interesting to see how hes utilized in a series vs. San Antonio. Two years ago as a member of the Kings, Wells destroyed the Spurs in a first-round series, averaging 23.2 points and 12.0 rebounds, while shooting a scorching 61 percent from the field.
Hilton Armstrong: Alternated between some encouraging stretches and some invisible ones. He only played three minutes in Game 5 after not denting the stat sheet. His playing time earlier vs. Dallas received a bump due to foul trouble for Chandler. Well see what his role is vs. San Antonio, a team that obviously relies on inside scoring more than Dallas, due to the presence of Tim Duncan.
Ryan Bowen: Didnt play enough to affect the outcome of any game. Totaled 12 minutes, two points, four rebounds.
Game 5 recap: Hornets 99, Mavericks 94
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Game 5 key questions (Hornets lead series 3-1)
1) How will the crowd affect the game?
Fans in the New Orleans Arena have been vociferous in their treatment of visiting teams since March, in particular during games against Southwest Division foes Dallas and San Antonio. After a much-discussed hard foul of Jannero Pargo (Jannero gives his opinion of the play here) during Game 4 in Dallas, it wont surprise anyone if Jason Kidd is booed every time he touches the ball. I wont be shocked if a few other Mavs if not the whole team receive the same greeting. Hornets fans have recently given visiting players the 48-minutes-of-booing treatment for doing less than what Kidd did.
Tonight is probably going to be one of the most electrifying nights weve ever witnessed, said Hornets owner George Shinn, who has operated the team for 20 years. Its going to be incredible. Byron Scott will be presented the Coach of the Year award a few minutes before tip-off, ensuring that the crowd will be at a high-decibel level immediately. Although Game 5 is another early start for a weekday game (6 p.m. local time), that was also the tip time for Game 2. It had no discernible negative effect.
2) Can Dallas regain its edge in trips to the foul line?
There havent been many areas where the Mavericks have held the upper hand in this series, other than free-throw attempts (Dallas leads 131-88) and rebounding (Dallas leads 185-163). However, in Game 4, the Hornets held the Mavericks to a series-low 16 trips to the line. One way for Dallas to keep the crowd out of this one would be to get to the line frequently. It would also be a sign that the Mavs are not settling for jumpers, something that has led to a few costly offensive droughts.
3) Who wins the first quarter?
Although everyone entered this series wondering if the Hornets could win in Dallas due to their 10-year-old woes there, its now more reasonable to ask: How likely it is for the Mavericks to win here? New Orleans won on its home floor by 12 and 24 points in Game 1 and 2. If the Hornets can build a big lead early in Game 5, it could add further doubt to the Mavericks confidence in being able to overcome their current significant deficit in the series. Dallas needs to start quickly. Even when they built a 12-point halftime lead here in Game 1, the Mavericks couldnt secure the win.
Byron Scott wins 2007-08 NBA Coach of the Year
Over Byron Scotts four seasons as Hornets head coach, the team has improved every year, posting 18, 38, 39 and 56 victories. One of the rewards for guiding New Orleans to the second-most improved record in the league came Tuesday morning, when he was presented with the Red Auerbach Trophy as the 2007-08 Coach of the Year award. We invite you to discuss why Scott deserved this prestigious honor and leave your congratulatory messages in the comments section of this blog entry. Well try to include as many of your comments as possible in the next Hornets GameTime program (Game 7 of the first round, or Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals).