Game 6 recap: Spurs 99, Hornets 80

Thursday, May 15, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

(Series tied 3-3)

As much as they’ve been asked, no one in a Hornets uniform can explain why they’ve been so unable to put forth a competitive effort in San Antonio during this series. The one thing they are certain of – and it’s about the best news at the moment – is that they will not have to answer that question again during these playoffs.

San Antonio continued its dominance of New Orleans in the Alamo City, pulling away in the second half. The Hornets cleared their bench with 7:38 remaining in the fourth quarter, trailing 89-65. This one was almost a carbon copy of the last Hornets visit to San Antonio in Game 4, when they were down 24 through three quarters.

“If I could figure out what’s going on with this homecourt stuff, I would bottle it and sell it to the other 29 teams,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. New Orleans has won by 19, 18 and 22 points in the Big Easy during this series.

Adding to the sour taste of Thursday’s game, Hornets All-Star forward David West re-aggravated the pinched nerve in his back, after being leveled from behind by the Spurs’ Robert Horry. West exited the game with 10 minutes remaining and did not return after the hard foul.

One plus is that West will have Friday through Sunday to recuperate from the injury. Game 7 will be played Monday in the New Orleans Arena. Tip-off time is to be determined (the start time is dependent on whether the Jazz-Lakers series goes to a Game 7 that would be played later Monday).

The Hornets survived some pinpoint Spurs shooting in the first half Thursday, probably relieved to only be down by seven at halftime, 58-51. "We felt like we were in pretty good shape," Scott said. But San Antonio put the clamps down on D in the third quarter, limiting New Orleans to just 12 points. The Hornets only scored 29 points after intermission.

"That third quarter was ugly," Chris Paul succinctly said.

As anticipated, Byron Scott went with the starters to a great extent in the first half, with West and Tyson Chandler playing all 24 minutes, while Paul played 23:57. Paul and Chandler both had strong offensive games, while Peja Stojakovic started quickly but did not score in the second half. Prior to his injury departure, West struggled, going 4-for-14 from the field and scoring 10 points.

Hornets Update

STARTERS

Chris Paul
: Amid a 9-for-18 shooting performance, he did most of his damage in the paint, repeatedly driving into the lane for scores or alley oop passes for Chandler dunks. His aggressiveness on D had to subside a bit when he picked up his fourth foul with 9:50 left in the third quarter. Scott kept him in the game to try to avoid falling into a bigger hole.

Morris Peterson: He took a few very difficult jumpers and went 1-for-6 from the field. His 22 minutes were the fewest he’s played in the first six games of the series.

Peja Stojakovic: His fast start was one of the more encouraging early signs Thursday, after he’d compiled quiet offensive nights in Game 3 through 5. After Bruce Bowen had hounded him of late, he finally broke free and got some wide-open looks. Unfortunately, he went scoreless in the second half after a 13-point first half.

David West: He seemed out of sync at times and couldn’t get his jumper to fall, leading to his 4-for-14 outing. He didn’t look great physically at times, appearing to wince while running up the court due to his back injury. "He took a pretty good shot in the back," Scott said of the Horry foul. "It's probably a good thing that Game 7 isn't until Monday. It will give (West) time to rest and get healthy."

Tyson Chandler: His activity on offense and attacking the rim was the best it’s been all series, resulting in three alley-oop slams, among five total dunks. Finished with 14 points on 7-for-8 shooting. The Spurs did a good job of keeping him in check on the boards; he finished with six rebounds. Scott said he didn't think Chandler's foot injury affected him much.

RESERVES

Julian Wright
: Had six points of his eight points in the fourth quarter, when the game was out of reach, but looked good and was active for most of his 13 minutes.

Jannero Pargo: Not a whole lot went right, starting with him picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter, sending him back to the bench after a two-minute stint. He was 1-for-6 overall from the floor, including a few contested jumpers with a hand in his face.

Bonzi Wells: Missed all three of his shots in the first half and did not appear again in the after 7:49 of action.

Melvin Ely: With Chandler not coming out, he did not enter the game until the fourth quarter. Hit a mid-range jumper among five points.

Mike James: His former head coach in Houston, Jeff Van Gundy, thought inserting James into the game at the outset of the fourth quarter might spark the Hornets, down 15 at the time, but the Spurs put it away quickly. James hit a pair of free throws over 12 minutes of PT.

Ryan Bowen: Two points, three rebounds in 8:01 of late-game action.



Game 6 key questions (Hornets lead series 3-2)


The Hornets have a chance to make team history tonight. With a victory, New Orleans would advance to the conference finals for the first time in the 20-year history of the franchise.
A few things to watch for in Game 6 (ESPN is broadcasting, with tip-off at 8 p.m. Central time):

1) Would playing with “house money” be a good thing or a bad thing for the Hornets?
After Game 5, Times-Picayune columnist John DeShazier asked Chris Paul and David West if the team would go into Game 6 with the mentality that it has nothing to lose, because it still has Game 7 at home essentially as a backup plan.

Neither Paul nor West agreed with that line of thinking, but then again, what are they going to say?: “Yeah, it’s no big deal if we lose Game 6, because we’ll just come back here to New Orleans and win Game 7 anyway.” You’re obviously not going to hear that.

Still, I’m curious to see what effect Game 5 will have on the Hornets. I wonder if by responding the way they did Tuesday, they cleared a mental hurdle against the Spurs. Nearly everyone was again questioning the legitimacy of New Orleans after losses in Game 3 and 4, but the Hornets showed that there is little reason for them to be intimidated by the Spurs. I think the best approach tonight would for them to use this as a way to play more relaxed and not overreact to mistakes or if they get behind on the scoreboard early in Game 6.

On the other hand, as Paul and West both said, the Hornets cannot think that it’s no big deal if they lose tonight. As confident as they should be about their chances at home, they don’t want to sit around for the next three days – Game 7 isn’t until Monday – thinking about what could happen against the defending champions in a do-or-die situation.

2) Can the Hornets carry over their defensive effectiveness against Tim Duncan?
The Spurs’ All-Star power forward is 12-for-40 from the field in the Big Easy in this series, often off-balance and shooting contested shots over Tyson Chandler. But he's 12-for-24 in the two home games. Duncan has been the barometer for San Antonio’s effectiveness in this series. When he gets rolling, it forces New Orleans to send even more defenders at him, which opens up the perimeter for the Spurs’ shooters.

San Antonio has not shot above 42.5 percent in any road game of this series, but shot 48.2 and 51.3 percent, respectively, in its two home games. New Orleans needs to cut into those numbers drastically to have a chance to win Game 6.

3) Can the Hornets’ role players and shooters provide more help for Paul and West?
Peja Stojakovic has had three straight single-digit scoring games, something that did not happen once in the entire 2007-08 regular season. In fact, he only had TWO straight single-digit games once, and that was way back in November. Meanwhile, Jannero Pargo has been better the past two games, but is only shooting 26 percent in the series. Bonzi Wells’ average of 4.8 points is well below his production. All three Hornets have the potential to break out at some point. Particularly in Game 3, Chris Paul became extra-aggressive on offense after the rest of the club showed it needed that, but it would be huge if he can remain in more of a distributing role unless it’s absolutely necessary.

4) Abbreviated minutes for the New Orleans bench?
With the reserves faltering a bit lately, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see Byron Scott stick almost exclusively with his starters in the second half of Game 5. If you’ve followed the team all season, you remember Scott doing this a lot back in November and December in order to secure wins. With three days off before a potential Game 7, there may be less reason than usual to rest guys tonight, with a chance to eliminate the Spurs. Three Hornets subs played less in Game 5 than they have in any game of the series, including Jannero Pargo (16 minutes), Bonzi Wells (7) and Julian Wright (6).