Game 5 recap: Hornets 101, Spurs 79

Tuesday, May 13, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

(Hornets lead series 3-2)

* Read postgame notes, quotes from both teams in Hornets.com's Courtside Live blog

Over the two days prior to Game 5, everyone had spent countless hours analyzing what was wrong with the Hornets. A common line of thinking was that after Games 3 and 4, the Spurs had “figured out” the Hornets. That San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich had finally come up with a scheme that would solve New Orleans and send the upstart Hornets packing on summer vacation. That the defending NBA champions were poised to show a team that hadn’t been in the postseason since 2004 how it’s done in the biggest games.

So much for that idea. For the fourth consecutive time, including a March regular-season game, New Orleans pounded San Antonio in the Big Easy. Game 5 was eerily similar to Game 1 of the series, with the Hornets pouring it on in the second half after trailing at the break.

This time, New Orleans ran roughshod over San Antonio by a 57-32 margin in the final 24 minutes, erasing a three-point halftime deficit.

David West was phenomenal, piling up 38 points despite sustaining a back injury in the first quarter. The injury caused him to struggle to get up the court at times, but it didn’t stop him from going 16-for-25 from the field.

“We treated this like a Game 7,” West said. “We didn’t want to go back to San Antonio with them having the opportunity to close us out.”

“We were the aggressor tonight,” said Chris Paul, who tallied 16 of his 22 points in the second half. He also totaled 14 assists. “We’ve got to find a way in San Antonio (for Thursday’s Game 6) to do the same thing. It’s crazy to see how active we are on defense at home (compared to on the road). I think going to San Antonio with the opportunity to close it out, we’ll find a way to (be energetic on defense).”

Game 6 will begin at 8 p.m. Central time. The Hornets will have the opportunity to reach the conference finals for the first time during the 20-year history of the franchise.

A couple hours prior to tip-off Tuesday, I went on the ESPN Radio affiliate in Austin, Texas, to give a report on the state of the Hornets entering Game 5 (the Spurs’ perspective was provided by their radio play-by-play man, Bill Schoening, who calls games on the same station). The gist of the discussion among callers was that the Spurs had the Hornets on their heels and that New Orleans needed to come up with some major adjustment to compensate for its multiple problems. When asked for a prediction on Game 5, I said I thought it would be the first close game of the series, but I was giving a slight edge to the Hornets.

As it turned out, I actually underestimated them – they won by 22. As it turned out, all the Hornets needed on this night was to return home.

Hornets Update

STARTERS

Chris Paul
: He only had one field goal at halftime and was being held relatively in check by the Spurs, while struggling to hit outside shots. In the second half, he took over, particularly during a 12-point third quarter. When he made up his mind to take it to the basket in the second half, San Antonio could not do much to stop him.

Morris Peterson: Talk about coming up big when you need him most. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard drilled four three-pointers in six tries from long range. His pair of trifectas in the third quarter were critical during a 28-11 period for the Hornets.

Peja Stojakovic: We probably can toss the idea out the window that the Hornets’ success in this series is directly tied to Stojakovic’s shooting. He struggled again, going 3-for-8 from the field and registering only nine points, but New Orleans didn’t need a huge game from him to prevail at home. One number that jumped off the stat sheet was his 11 defensive rebounds. The Hornets beat the Spurs on the backboards 50-41.

David West: Not sure how many times we’ve written this during the 2007-08, but it’s a lot. This was another statement by the 6-foot-9 All-Star – his biggest so far – on why he needs to be mentioned in the discussion of the game’s premier power forwards. His 38 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots were all career playoff highs.

Tyson Chandler: By his standards, his four-point, eight-rebound game was a quiet one. He was scoreless in the first half, but scored twice on dunks after the break. It was almost a relief to see him throw down an alley-oop dunk off a Paul feed, after the Spurs had shut down that staple of the Hornets' offense during Game 3 and 4.

RESERVES

Jannero Pargo
: He scored nine of his 10 points in the fourth quarter, part of a 29-21 edge for the Hornets. The 6-1 guard canned two big jumpers during that stanza. He finished 2-for-6 from the field, missing a couple quick perimeter shots in the first half.

Melvin Ely: The best thing he did was foil the Spurs’ “Hack-a-Mel” strategy by sinking two free throws near the end of the first quarter. San Antonio had fouled him on purpose in order to get an extra possession, but the 55 percent foul shooter hit both tries. Other than that, he picked up three fouls and had one rebound in six minutes.

Bonzi Wells: Only played seven minutes, the least PT he’s gotten in 10 playoff games. Missed a jumper and went 0-for-2 from the foul line. Also grabbed three rebounds and had three fouls.

Julian Wright: Went 0-for-2 from the field, both on plays where he probably could’ve made a better decision. He passed up an open three-pointer on one play, only to dribble into a tougher 18-foot shot. He later missed a flying layup as he tried to finish over Tim Duncan. Like Wells, this was the least he’s played in the postseason (6 minutes).

Hilton Armstrong: Played final 1:10 of second quarter due to other big-men foul trouble. Also was on floor during mop-up time in fourth period.

Ryan Bowen: Grabbed one rebound over final 1:45 of game.

Mike James: Swished a three-pointer from the left wing during his 1:45 stint. New Orleans led 93-77 when Bowen and James were subbed into the game.



Game 5 key questions (Series tied 2-2)


* View Hornets Game 5 fan guide in Hornets.com's Courtside Live blog

A few things to watch for in Game 5:

1) Was Peja Stojakovic’s decreased production due to Spurs adjustments or a change in venue?
After Game 2, everyone was singing the praises of the 6-foot-10 small forward, who was having a dazzling postseason run at that point, including making 62 percent of his three-pointers. After Game 4, Stojakovic appears to be the series’ biggest X-factor.

He has looked like a completely different player depending on the site. He is averaging 23.5 points and shooting 64 percent on treys in New Orleans; his numbers in San Antonio are 7.0 and 1-4 on trifectas. Bruce Bowen deserves credit for putting the clamps on Stojakovic, but it will be interesting to see if he can be similarly effective back in the Big Easy. The Hornets have been able to get into transition much more easily at home, which allows Stojakovic to spot up for open threes on feeds from Chris Paul.

2) Can the Hornets find a temporary solution on defense?
New Orleans looked so lost at the defensive end during portions of Game 3 and Game 4, that Byron Scott decided to ask his players prior to Monday’s practice for suggestions. After Hornets players were repeatedly missing assignments in San Antonio, it appeared as though the help defense suffered – or was non-existent. Scott chalked that up to a lack of trust between defenders that results from mistakes. He basically told the players that he was open to their ideas, because if they don't believe in the defensive schemes, they need to find something in which they can be confident.

It’s yet another glaring example of how much has changed since Game 2 in this series. At that stage, people were wondering if the Hornets were too quick and athletic for the Spurs to get any open shots (they only scored 82 and 84 points in New Orleans). Now the Hornets appear to be scrambling to figure out how to prevent the Spurs from getting a boatload of open shots.

3) What effect will the home crowd have?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is the biggest home game in the New Orleans history of the Hornets. Over the past 48 hours, there has been a ton of discussion by fans about having an impact on this game.

The numbers speak for themselves: tonight will be the 12th straight home sellout. The Hornets are 10-1 in the past 11 instances of a capacity crowd. New Orleans has gone 17-1 overall in home games since Feb. 27 (Utah’s April 8 victory was the lone blemish).

San Antonio has looked dreadful in each of its past three trips to New Orleans, losing by 25, 19 and 18 points. While many analysts are predicting a Spurs victory tonight – and a subsequent series win in 6 by the four-time NBA champions – they will have to play infinitely better basketball than what they’ve shown here lately to do it.