Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 96, Hawks 88

Saturday, November 21, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

The Hornets’ 2009 draft class is looking better and better with every game. Tonight’s win over Atlanta was the most concrete proof to date that New Orleans may have made some very wise decisions on draft night in June.

Hornets rookies Darren Collison (22 points) and Marcus Thornton (21 points) both tallied career-highs in scoring, sparking the Hornets (6-8) to a second straight win over a conference-leading opponent. It was New Orleans’ third consecutive victory, all without the injured Chris Paul (ankle).
Just a week ago, the combination of a coaching change, Paul’s injury and a daunting upcoming schedule had some basketball analysts wondering aloud if the Hornets’ realistic playoff hopes might be over by Christmas. Instead, New Orleans has been playing inspired basketball over the past week, providing evidence that it can not only compete with, but also beat, quality teams without its two-time All-Star point guard.

"They’ve got a lot of confidence,” assessed the Hornets’ other two-time All-Star, David West, of the first-year pros. “They’re good basketball players. The thing that Jeff (Bower) is doing is playing to their strengths and putting them in position to be successful.

“They’re willing to listen and they want to be successful, and that’s what you want from guys, especially when they’re thrust into a role where they’re called on to produce.”

Several of the Hornets’ veterans have said that they didn’t pay attention to the rampant skepticism about the team’s ability to survive without Paul. The three-game homestand demonstrated that New Orleans may have a bit more talent than it showed during the first two weeks of the season.

“We’ve got guys on this team who can play,” West said. “With Darren especially, he’s a legitimate point guard and is used to leading basketball teams. He came in here from Day 1, and personally I’ve had the utmost confidence in him. He’s been in Final Fours. He was ready to play.”

“Me and Darren, from Day 1, came in (to the season) and knew we could play this game,” Thornton said. “We just stuck together through the trials and tribulations, and prevailed today.”

“I think it was just that some guys just need the opportunity to play,” Collison said. “We worked so hard on our game. When the opportunity presents itself, you just have to be ready.”

Collison said that the rookies’ readiness to produce was something the Hornets expected from he and Thornton, partly because each player spent four years in college, as opposed to many one-year-and-done draftees who enter the NBA.

“That’s why they drafted us,” Collison said. “There really is no excuse not to come in and perform. It shouldn’t be (that difficult). As a senior (in college), you’ve seen it all, at the second-highest level (of basketball). Now it’s just about watching it (and improving). We watched for the first four or five games; now we’re going to go ahead and take over (during games).”

Hornets Head Coach Jeff Bower:

On Atlanta’s athleticism and the team’s resiliency: “Atlanta is an extremely talented team. They came in here with the best record in the league. Their ability to score in bunches was a huge concern and their ability to convert misses into second chance points was a huge concern. Getting the game closed up was always something we were fearful of.”

On not letting Atlanta get to the offensive glass in key moments: “We really battled to close out the game. We really played the fourth quarter with an outstanding mindset of attacking four minute spurts. We wanted to get off to a good start to start the quarter and we wanted to maintain our momentum in the middle. The guys were talking about it in the huddle about having to end the play; we have to end the possession from a defensive rebounding standpoint. I couldn’t be more pleased with their effort and their conversion of effort into results. It’s hard to hold Atlanta off the boards. They finished with 20 offensive rebounds tonight and I think they earned the majority of them and that’s part of who they are.”

On improving in many aspects of the game: “They are key performance indicators and they give you a measure of how you are doing and if it is important enough to your team or your situation then you have to be able to measure it and see how you are doing on a nightly basis and a daily basis and over the course of time. We’ve climbed in all of our late rankings. We’ve climbed in the percentage numbers and everything. That doesn’t mean anything if the results aren’t there, but generally that process will get you the results you are looking for.”

Hornets Guard Darren Collison:
On his play tonight: “This is a game I’ve been playing for a long time. Just because you get to the NBA doesn’t mean you should freeze up. I’m just taking what the defense gives me every possession. I’m able to use my quickness and get off my jump shot. Today my shots were falling. The most important thing out of all of this is that we got the win.”

Hornets Guard Marcus Thornton:
On the game: “We knew they (Atlanta) were a hot team coming in. They had all the excitement after last night’s win over Houston. We knew we had to go out aggressive and get the win. It was a big win. Atlanta’s a hot team right now. Everybody stuck together and we pulled it off.”

On the team: “Our confidence is rising every game. The players believe in each other, and when we have that chemistry with each other, everything is good.”

Hornets Forward Peja Stojakovic:
On the play of the rookies, Thornton and Collison: “They just play like they’ve been in the league for so many years. They’ve really stepped up and show a lot of responsibility.”