For Byron Scott, it didn't take long to assess what went wrong for his team in Game 3. You're not going to defeat the defending NBA champions on their home floor, in one of the toughest places to play in the league if you allow 110 points.
Scott said even though the Spurs were missing open shots in the first half, the fact that San Antonio was a step ahead of New Orleans on that end of the floor was a bad sign. Scotts analysis proved to be omniscient after intermission, as San Antonio wiped out a two-point deficit by holding a 56-43 edge.
New Orleans had basically been spectacular defensively in the first two games of the series, holding San Antonio well below its season average with outputs of 82 and 84 points, respectively.
We got away from our defensive gameplan somewhat, described Chris Paul, who did everything he could to keep the Hornets close, with 35 points and nine assists. We didnt defend as well as we did the first two games.
San Antonios star-studded trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had been relatively quiet in the previous two games, but erupted for a combined 78 points Thursday. Parker and Ginobili each poured in 31 points and kept the Hornets on their heels by taking the ball to the rim. They were a combined 13-for-14 from the foul line and 23-for-46 from the field.
The Hornets were still within a manageable five points of the lead after three quarters, trailing 83-78, but the Spurs pulled away and grabbed a double-figure lead. Both teams subbed in deep reserves with about two minutes remaining.
Chris Paul: Hes obviously had several great games in his initial NBA playoffs, but in some ways this one was his most impressive. He made a bunch of tough shots during his 35-point outing (15-for-25 from the field), including a spinning, over-the-head toss that was immediately headed to Bristol for SportsCenters Top 10 plays. He was tough to stop both from the perimeter and on drives into the lane, regardless of whether Parker or Bruce Bowen was the defender.
Morris Peterson: He was solid in the first two games, but very quiet Thursday. He finished with three points in 23 minutes, along with four fouls and three turnovers.
Peja Stojakovic: He entered the game shooting a ridiculous 62 percent from three-point range in the playoffs, but was held to single-digit points (8) for the first time this postseason. He was 2-for-7 from the floor over 36 minutes. His 1-for-3 game from long distance was part of New Orleans going 2-for-11 from the arc. San Antonio was 11-for-25.
David West: Joined his fellow All-Star Paul in producing a very good Game 3. He connected mostly on jumpers while going 10-for-19 for 23 points. He also grabbed 12 rebounds, blocked three shots and had two steals.
Tyson Chandler: He sat during a crucial portion of the third quarter after picking up his fourth foul. A nice offensive contribution (12 points, 5-for-5 shooting), but by his standards, eight rebounds in 36 minutes is below average. Played solid defense against Duncan in the first half; the Big Fundamental totaled 16 points.
Julian Wright: He was active on both ends of the floor, showing the energy that the team has come to expect from him. Had six points and a steal in 16 minutes. One negative was a poor decision on a 2-on-1 fast break in which the Hornets were fortunate to retain possession.
Bonzi Wells: A couple very difficult makes from the field amid a 3-for-8 game. He also notched four rebounds in 18 minutes.
Jannero Pargo: After compiling maybe the best first-round series by a reserve in the NBA playoffs, his shooting touch has deserted him over the first three games. The 6-foot-1 guard was 1-for-7 in Game 3 and is now 4-for-19 so far in the series.
Melvin Ely: Pulled down a couple helpful offensive boards in the first half and dropped in two buckets for four points. He logged 13 minutes in his third game back in the rotation.
Ryan Bowen: Inserted with the outcome decided for the final 1:42. Posted two rebounds.
(Details on Game 3 watch parties)
Over the past few days, newspapers have been filled with stories wondering if its time to panic and give up on this Spurs season. Observers are pondering whether the aging Spurs can find the answer to beating this youthful, up-and-coming Hornets team. Of course, these are some of the same sentiments that were uttered in Dallas during Round 1, before the Mavericks briefly breathed life into their season by winning Game 3 over the Hornets.
Several Hornets players believe that they may have subconsciously been content with being up 2-0 against the Mavericks in that series. They did not match the Mavericks energy in Game 3, a big reason why Dallas won 97-87, its lone victory of the series.
I cant see a decrease in intensity from New Orleans this time. The Hornets realize they are playing against the defending champions and dont want to let them back in the series. Im sure Im not alone, though, in expecting the Spurs to play much better on their home floor tonight.
A few things to watch for in Game 3:
1) Can the Hornets continue to keep Tony Parker out of the lane?
This was perhaps the biggest key to holding San Antonio to only 84 points in Game 2. Parker might be the best finisher around the basket among point guards in the NBA, but his jump shot remains erratic. New Orleans prevented him from driving to the rim, forcing him to fire 20-footers. He couldnt get untracked from the perimeter and went 5-for-14 overall. Of those nine misses, two of them came when he did get into the paint, but Tyson Chandler rejected layup attempts. Parker has never been a big assist guy, preferring to look for his own shot when he penetrates, but the Hornets will take his three-assist, three-turnover performance in Game 2 any day.
2) How will the teams shooting performances be affected by the change of venue?
Maybe Im overrating the homecourt edge a little bit here, but I doubt it. It is not likely that the Hornets or any road team can go into San Antonio and shoot 49 percent from the field and 52 percent from three-point range over two games, as they did in New Orleans. How likely is it that the Spurs will shoot 42 percent from the field over these next pair of games? You have to give the Hornets ubiquitous defense a ton of credit for that stat, but it would be incredible if they can continue to shut down the Spurs to that extent. None of the Spurs role players made more than half of their shots in New Orleans, other than Brent Barry (4-for-6). Michael Finley (7-18), Bruce Bowen (6-17), Ime Udoka (3-9) and Robert Horry (0-4) were a combined 16-for-54, or 29.6 percent.
3) Can the Hornets approximate their second-half dominance in Texas?
If you add up the latter-half scores of Game 1 and 2, the scoreboard reads: New Orleans 116, San Antonio 74. There are several explanations that have been thrown out there for this development, including the significant homecourt advantage the Hornets now possess. If you were in the arena for the games, you could almost sense the team gaining momentum from the crowd when things started to go well for the Hornets. There is also speculation that the second-half results are partly due to the young legs New Orleans has in comparison to San Antonio, which keeps the Hornets fresher later in games.
By the way, probably the best second half the Hornets played all season came on Jan. 25, when they outscored the Spurs 60-35 after intermission. New Orleans has outscored San Antonio in the second half five times out of the six meetings in 2007-08, by a total of 322-236. Per 48 minutes, that equates to New Orleans 107, San Antonio 79.