Game 4 recap: Spurs 100, Hornets 80

Sunday, May 11, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

(Series tied 2-2)
* Read postgame quotes in Hornets.com's Courtside Live blog

It took nine games, but the Hornets finally looked the way many skeptics expected they would during this postseason: overwhelmed and outplayed by a more experienced opponent. Whether it was shooting, defending, rebounding – you name it – San Antonio held the upper hand over New Orleans in Game 4, tying the series at two apiece.

The Spurs built an 85-61 lead through three quarters. Hornets coach Byron Scott responded by sitting the entire starting five at the outset of the fourth period. Scott subbed in Mike James, Ryan Bowen and Hilton Armstrong, none of whom had appeared yet.

New Orleans now has 48 hours to figure out how it can return to the high level of play it showed in Game 1 and 2. Tuesday’s Game 5 will begin in the New Orleans Arena at 8:30 p.m.

“I’m curious to see how this young Hornets team responds (in Game 5),” TNT analyst Reggie Miller said on the air late in Sunday’s defeat. “How are they going to take this (one-sided defeat)? San Antonio has put something in the minds of the upstart Hornets.”

San Antonio connected on 51.3 percent of its shots, while New Orleans only barely edged over the 40 percent mark by scoring a few garbage-time buckets late. The Spurs did a tremendous job on New Orleans second- and third-leading scorers David West and Peja Stojakovic, who combined to go 7-for-24 from the field for 16 points. The Hornets probably need about twice that output from those two primary weapons in order to have a chance to prevail at the AT&T Center. Despite New Orleans missing 49 shots Sunday, it only registered 10 offensive rebounds. Overall, San Antonio posted a 45-36 advantage on the boards.

"I thought we went back to some of our bad habits from earlier in the season," assessed the often brutally honest Scott during his postgame press conference. "Where we missed some easy shots, and let that dictate how hard we play on the defensive end. We went back to being a little bit experienced. I thought we didn't match (the Spurs') effort. The Spurs are kicking our butts from a physical standpoint."

"We got beat in all aspects of the game tonight," Chris Paul said. "They beat us to every loose ball. We looked pretty bad. We've got to bounce back."

Hornets Update

STARTERS

Chris Paul
: He tried to carry the offense, finishing with 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting, but on this forgettable night for the Hornets, even he displayed things we haven't seen in a long time. Uncharacteristically, he committed four turnovers, including two miscues where he got out of control with the dribble and lost the ball in traffic, while quickly advancing the ball into the frontcourt. For a second straight game, Tony Parker got into the lane on penetration early and often. Parker had 21 points, including 18 in the first half.

Morris Peterson: Like many of his teammates, most of the time when he had a chance to finish at the rim Sunday, he couldn’t convert. He canned two three-pointers, his lone makes from the field among eight attempts.

Peja Stojakovic: The tone was set for his night when he had a couple layup attempts roll off the rim in the first few minutes. The Hornets need him to bounce back in a big way during Game 5 after he went 3-for-9 in Game 4 over 33 minutes.

David West: A combination of hesitating when he was open at 18 to 20 feet, along with a few forces of tough shots, led to a 4-for-15 game.

Tyson Chandler: This was a frustrating game all the way around for the 7-1 center, who picked up his fifth foul at 8:39 of the third quarter and had to sit down. He did not attempt a shot in 25 minutes, while grabbing four rebounds. He’s one of multiple Hornets whose production in the two games in San Antonio was completely different than what he provided in New Orleans.

RESERVES

Jannero Pargo
: A rare positive from Game 4 was Pargo’s 3-for-8 from three-point range. Overall he was 4-for-14 and scored 11 points in 18 minutes. As we’ve mentioned here before, Pargo has played tangibly better at home than on the road this season. The Hornets hope the trend continues Tuesday.

Julian Wright: A mixed bag that including two turnovers, four points, a highlight-reel dunk and four rebounds, over 19 minutes.

Bonzi Wells: Had six points and five rebounds, tallying four of those points in the fourth quarter with the Hornets down 20-plus.

Melvin Ely: Played the final four seconds of the second quarter, in order to prevent Chandler from picking up an extra foul. He ended up fouling Tim Duncan on a three-point play.

Hilton Armstrong: Played the entire fourth quarter. Sure, the outcome was decided by then, but this was by far the best he’s looked in the postseason. Finished with nine points and six rebounds. He scored baskets on a nice post-up move, a dunk and a mid-range jumper.

Mike James: Was 1-for-5 from the field with an assist.

Ryan Bowen: Grabbed two boards and had an assist in 12 minutes.



Game 4 key questions (Hornets lead series 2-1)


With about 72 hours between the start of Game 3 and Game 4, there has been plenty of time for both teams to address what went right and wrong on Thursday. I thought the best sign from a Hornets perspective was that the team didn’t appear to be intimidated at all by playing a playoff game in San Antonio. New Orleans went up 8-0 in the first three minutes and led by seven points late in the first half, before a costly five-point Spurs spurt in 2.9 seconds.

Even though many people have compared Game 3 of this series to the Dallas series, that Mavericks defeat was a little more discouraging to me, because it seemed like there were fewer correctable problems. Of course, the opponent this time is much more formidable.

The Hornets have repeatedly come up big in situations like this throughout the season, but this will be the biggest test they’ve faced so far.

A few things to watch for in Game 4:

1) What effect will defensive criticism have on the Hornets?
After the Hornets looked like they had six defenders on the court at times during the first two games, there was considerable slippage in that area Thursday. Byron Scott was critical of the team’s slow or non-existent help defense, which allowed the Spurs to get to the rim with minimal resistance. Obviously, a big reason why the help defense became a bigger issue was that Hornets players simply did a much worse job of keeping their men in front of them. Spurs guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili each racked up 31 points, a development that can be filed under the category of “if that happens, you have no chance to win in San Antonio.”

I wrote after Game 3 that it seems far-fetched to believe you can beat the Spurs on their home floor if you surrender 110 points. It’s interesting to go back and actually look at their seven home defeats in 2007-08. These were the Spurs’ mostly meager point totals in those losses: 73, 78, 79, 80, 88, 91 and 95. So no team has even given up 100 points in San Antonio this season and still won. Four of those instances included the Spurs putting up 80 points or fewer.

2) Will the Hornets’ jump shooters bounce back after a poor Game 4?
The Spurs decided to switch ace defender Bruce Bowen onto Peja Stojakovic (2-for-7), figuring that if Bowen wasn’t going to have any effect on Chris Paul’s effectiveness, they might as well try to focus on another key Hornet. It seemed to work pretty well. New Orleans has never tried to force the issue with Stojakovic’s offense all season, allowing him to get his shot attempts in the flow of the attack. It will be interesting to see what happens there; he took 15 and 13 shots in the first two games, respectively.

The other key Hornets shooter is Jannero Pargo, who was 1-or-7 and has gone into a mini-slump in this series. Can he break out in one of the tougher places to play in the NBA? Remember, he had 30 points in Dallas in Game 3 of the first round, but otherwise Pargo has been a consistently better player in the New Orleans Arena than on the road. In home games, he shot better from the field (41.1 to 36.7 percent), the arc (35.3 to 34.5) and the foul line (91.2 to 85.1).

3) Can the Hornets force a faster pace?
New Orleans only had seven fast-break points in Game 3, including zero in the second half. The Hornets need to get easy baskets against the four-time champion Spurs, especially on the road, to take advantage of what Tyson Chandler called the team’s “younger legs.” New Orleans also would be much better off if it doesn’t have to work hard for every hoop it gets in halfcourt sets.

4) Fewer minutes for the bench?
Four Hornets reserves played between 13 and 18 minutes in Game 3, but the only sub who had an above-average outing was Julian Wright. Bonzi Wells, Pargo and Melvin Ely combined to go 6-for-20 from the field, with seven fouls and three of the Hornets’ 10 turnovers. Wright usually plays significantly less than Wells and Pargo do, but perhaps more of those minutes at the two and three positions will go to the rookie in Game 4. Also, the 23 minutes Morris Peterson got in Game 3 were not out of the norm for him, but far less than starters usually get. Ely’s 13 minutes were necessitated by Chandler foul trouble.

This is obviously the most critical game of the season, so we’ll see if that means more minutes for the starting five, as the Hornets attempt to secure what would be an immense, landmark victory.