Game 1 recap: Hornets 101, Spurs 82

Saturday, May 3, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Where have we seen this before? The Hornets enter a playoff series against a team from Texas as the underdog, picked by a majority of analysts to lose despite having a better seed. The Hornets play a mediocre first half in Game 1, but dominate after intermission, making some of the predictions that they’d be overwhelmed by a more experienced opponent look shaky right off the bat.

You can be forgiven if Saturday’s 19-point victory over San Antonio reminded you a lot of two Saturdays ago, when New Orleans wiped out a halftime deficit vs. Dallas to go on to a double-digit Game 1 triumph. The Hornets hope their second-round Game 1 comeback win bodes well for the rest of a series in which they are expected to beat the Spurs by very few observers (only one of ESPN.com’s 10 analysts predicted a New Orleans series triumph).

It’s the playoffs, so New Orleans would’ve been thrilled by a victory of any kind, but to win this way was particularly encouraging. The Hornets won by a big margin despite:

* Trailing 49-45 at halftime.

* Allowing the Spurs to drill 12 three-pointers, including five by Bruce Bowen. Bowen averaged 0.8 points (not a misprint) in the first-round Phoenix series but tallied 17 points in Game 1 vs. New Orleans.

* A so-so performance by Chris Paul for most of the night – by his lofty standards at least. Through three quarters, CP was only 3-for-9 from the field and had eight points. New Orleans still was up 74-66 at that point. Paul finished with his usual double-double, at 17 points and 13 assists.

Of course, San Antonio could point its own litany of reasons why it can bounce back in Game 2, including a stunningly bad game by Tim Duncan (5 points, 1-for-9 shooting, 3 rebounds in 38 minutes) that may have been statistically the worst playoff outing of his decorated NBA career. The Spurs also shot only 40.8 percent, despite all of their three-point makes. San Antonio was beaten badly on the backboards as well, with New Orleans holding a 50-34 advantage.

David West was superb for New Orleans again in Game 1, racking up 30 points on 13-for-23 shooting. The Spurs had no more success in handling West’s versatile offensive game than the Mavericks did over five first-round games.

“They were beating us to loose balls and were looking like the younger team,” West said of the reasons the Spurs led after the first half. “Coach (Byron Scott) let us know that that’s not going to be acceptable, to let the Spurs outhustle us. We understand how good they are and how poised they are. We can’t let them outwork us in terms of effort and hustle points.”

Hornets Update

STARTERS

Chris Paul
: His good friend and opposing point guard Tony Parker (23 points, 9-for-17 shooting) had the better offensive game, but Paul committed only two turnovers to Parker’s five. The line in the box score of "San Antonio 13 turnovers, New Orleans seven" could easily be one overlooked aspect of the Hornets’ Game 1 victory. CP also had four steals and used his quickness to help make the Spurs look confused and out of sync during their 33-point second half.

Morris Peterson: Once again, he was an efficient player for the Hornets in the playoffs. Scored eight points on only five total shot attempts. He provided a nice spark during the game-opening 8-0 run, canning two jumpers.

Peja Stojakovic: The most impressive aspect of his 22-point game was the varied ways he got his points. Often almost exclusively used as a release valve in the halfcourt offense as a three-point shooter, the Hornets exploited mismatches by posting up the 6-foot-10 forward against smaller defenders. The Spurs must have thought they could get away with using point guards Parker and Jacque Vaughn to defend Stojakovic – thus enabling Bruce Bowen to guard Paul – but Stojakovic made them pay by taking the Spurs’ smaller players into the post.

David West: He seems to be more effective than ever in the paint. He appears to be realizing that very few defenders can handle his combination of skills and size (6-foot-9, 240 pounds). His 30-point game included six buckets in post-up situations, along with two dunks. West has become the low-post threat that Byron Scott wanted him to develop into, the aggressive scorer that the Hornets needed to take another leap among the league’s premier clubs.

Tyson Chandler: Finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds. He was a force on the boards immediately, setting the tone for a Game 1 in which New Orleans led the offensive rebounding department 16-8. Scored twice on dunks and once on a tip-in. It could be very tough for San Antonio to keep him from thriving on the boards, given the Spurs’ lack of frontcourt players who combine size and athleticism. Another good sign was that Chandler only was whistled for two fouls despite being matched up against Duncan frequently.

RESERVES

Bonzi Wells
: He was very quiet in the Dallas series, but in Game 1 he had another of those quarters that made you remember why several rivals in the West thought his acquisition was big for New Orleans. Wells tallied eight points in the fourth period, hitting two jumpers, dropping in a layup and following up a teammate’s miss for a putback score. He should be extremely confident against the Spurs after terrorizing them in the 2006 playoffs as a Sacramento King.

Jannero Pargo: He was 1-for-9 in Game 1 of the Dallas series. He was 1-for-6 in Game 1 of the San Antonio series. We all know what happened in Games 2-5 against the Mavericks, so Pargo will hope to repeat that scenario. His shot deserted him, but he actually had a pretty nice floor game (4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals) in 21 minutes. He played the entire fourth quarter, a big show of confidence from Scott after Pargo hadn’t done a lot up to that point in the game.

Melvin Ely: Scott had been discussing changing his backup center over the past few days and followed through on that by vaulting Ely over Hilton Armstrong in the rotation. Ely did some nice things in 13 minutes, playing decent low-post defense and grabbing four rebounds. He was 0-for-2 from the field and committed four fouls.

Julian Wright: Two points and two rebounds in 10 minutes, but a couple nice moments. He fired up the crowd by aggressively grabbing an offensive rebound away from a couple Spurs, then later scooped up a loose ball and dropped in a layup. Two quality hustle plays.

Ryan Bowen: Only played the final two minutes of the game after the Hornets built a 96-82 lead.



Game 1 key questions


A few things to watch for in Game 1, which will tip off at 9 p.m. Saturday in the New Orleans Arena (TNT is broadcasting the game):

1) How will the Hornets defend Tim Duncan?
I was a guest on the ESPN Radio affiliate in Austin, Texas, yesterday, to give a Hornets perspective on the series against the nearby Spurs. After a couple questions, they asked me what I thought about the Duncan-David West matchup; unfortunately, somehow the call got cut off so I was unable to answer. If I had stayed on the air, I would’ve noted that I don’t think these two will necessarily be matched up against each other on the Spurs’ offensive end consistently. Based on size and length, it makes as much sense for Tyson Chandler (7-foot-1) to defend Duncan (6-11), and West (6-9) to be matched up against rugged but undersized Spurs center Kurt Thomas (6-9).

Byron Scott has also mentioned the possibility of using Melvin Ely and/or Chris Andersen in the San Antonio series, due to the presence of Duncan and the fouls the Hornets may need to use on him. Andersen was not activated during the Dallas series. It’s key that New Orleans doesn’t allow Duncan to get rolling and force double-teams that will open up the perimeter for the Spurs’ shooters.

Keep in mind that Duncan improved from the foul line during the regular season – his 73 percent rate was his best in six years – but the best strategy is often to hack him and force him to make free throws. He was down to 61 percent in the Phoenix series and was only 9-for-18 in the first two games.

2) Excluding Manu, whose bench performs better?
New Orleans’ reserves received heavy criticism throughout most of the regular season, but the addition of Bonzi Wells, the emergence of Julian Wright and some great play from Jannero Pargo have shored up that weakness.

Although Manu Ginobili is the NBA’s best bench player, winning the Sixth Man of the Year award, he plays starter minutes and is on the floor at crunch time. If you take out his stats and contributions, the Spurs have probably gotten less from their bench this season than they have in many years. Second-string center Fabricio Oberto was supplanted in the starting five by Thomas. Brent Barry has been injured, playing only 31 regular season games. The Spurs brought in Damon Stoudamire with the idea that he might take Jacque Vaughn’s backup point guard role, but Stoudamire struggled, shooting just 36 percent from the field. Vaughn only played 29 minutes in the Phoenix series. Robert Horry is having the worst season of his 16-year career.

In other words, the Spurs’ second unit has had more question marks than answers in 2007-08.

Will the Hornets be able to take advantage of this? Or will the Spurs – as they have repeatedly in the past – be at their best when the games are the biggest?

3) Will the layoff have any effect on the teams?
Neither team has played since wrapping up first-round series wins Tuesday, meaning a full three days off for both (almost four considering how late this game is tipping off). In some cases that can lead to poor offensive starts and sluggishness.

I don’t know if this means anything, but the Spurs are 4-3 this season when they have had three days or more between games, including subpar offensive outputs of 81, 84, 77 and 85 points. They scored over 100 points only once in the seven instances.

New Orleans was 4-2 with three days of rest or more, scoring 100-plus points three times. The last time the Hornets had three days off prior to a game was March 12, when they pounded – you guessed it – the Spurs, 100-75.