For the first time since April 7th, 2009, the New Orleans Hornets have clinched a post-season berth, doing so against the team fighting for their spot, the Houston Rockets. With the win, New Orleans is guaranteed to finish with no less than 45 wins, while Houston can win no more than 44, leaving the Rockets just one loss or one Memphis win away from total playoff elimination. Houston brought a nice chunk of fans to the arena, but all of them left distraught and ready to drink their sorrows away on Bourbon Street. The Hornets fell behind big early, trailing by first quarter scores such as 10-0, 20-4, and finally 38-21 to end the opening period. In a game they could have let get away, the Bees battled back, using a flurry of steals and fast break buckets to cut the halftime deficit to 55-51, and eventually grab their first lead at 66-63 with 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter. The game remained close up until the end, when two HUGE rebounds from Carl Landry combined with four clutch free throws from Jarrett Jack iced the game for the Hornets. This one was a great game to watch, and it gave me a fantastic feeling to see the big smiles break out on every Hornets player’s face. Game notes after the jump… WE’RE IN, BABY!
- Chris Paul was vintage CP3 in this one, finishing one rebound shy of a triple double as Houston simply could not stop him from creating tons of opportunities for himself and his teammates. Lowry is, in my opinion, an excellent defender, and he did an average job at best on him; Dragic, on the other hand, was so far over his head it was embarrassing. For the night, Paul finished with 28 points on 10-20 shooting to go along with 10 assists and 9 rebounds. I was secretly hoping that CP3 would pull a Bob Sura and miss his second free throw on purpose (up by 7 with less than 2 seconds left) to try and get the triple double, but I knew he has more class than that. Anyway, great game for Chris, and now he can get a good night’s sleep knowing he’s headed back to the playoffs.
- Second consecutive solid outing for Trevor Ariza on both sides of the ball. He was active on defense all night and shut down whoever he guarded. Starting in the second half, that player was Kevin Martin, and Martin only scoring 2 points in the third quarter was no coincidence. His defense in this one was exactly what the Hornets need from him in the postseason, especially if their opponent is the Spurs (Ginobili), Lakers (Kobe), or Thunder (Durant). On offense, he took it to his former team, wisely attempting 11 of his 17 shots in the paint. Though he made just one of his six shots from outside the lane, he made 8 of 11 attempts from 8 feet or less, and that is where the Hornets need him to live on offense. In a nutshell, tonight’s Ariza was the one every Hornets fan hoped that New Orleans was acquiring when he was traded here, and seeing a game like this so close to playoff time is, at the very least, somewhat reassuring.
- Unsung hero of the game award without a doubt goes to backup guard Jarrett Jack. JJ came off the bench to score 19 points on only 5-10 shooting thanks to a couple huge 3-pointers (on his only two attempts) along with 7 free throws out of 8 attempts. Three of those attempts came from Jack once again utilizing his patented foul-drawing 3-point shot that he made famous against Dallas. In addition, Jack also added 2 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 0 turnovers. Great night for Jack, and the Hornets definitely would not have won without him.
- In hindsight, one of the most comforting points of this game may have come from the lack of production by Carl Landry. D-West’s replacement made just 2 of his 10 field goal attempts and only got to the line once, finishing with 5 points in total. That being said, Landry was able to grab 9 rebounds, including the two biggest boards of the game, one on each end of the court. With two minutes remaining and the Hornets up 95-91, Chris Paul missed an 8 foot jumper which Landry recovered, giving the Hornets a fresh shot clock. After using 21 of the 24 seconds, Ariza missed a three-pointer, allowing the Rockets to go on a fast break. Houston’s backup PG Goran Dragic (who had a hell of a game, largely thanks to making 4 of his 5 shots from behind the arc) barely missed a layup, and Landry came soaring in from behind to get a very impressive defensive rebound with 1:12 to go. We know Carl will bounce back on offense, so it was especially nice to see him putting in the work on the boards when his shot wasn’t falling.
- Brutal game from Okafor, who despite tallying 11 points on 4-6 shooting, somehow managed to record more turnovers (5) than rebounds (3) in 29 minutes of action. After picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter and heading to the bench for a full 12 minutes, he never really got into the flow of the game. He’ll bounce back against Phoenix on Friday.
- Finally, shout-out to Jason Smith for showing some serious guts. With under a minute remaining in the 3rd quarter, Smith got essentially punched in the mouth by Brad Miller (who was assessed a flagrant I) on a fast break dunk attempt, drawing blood. After briefly leaving the court, the Hornets called him back out to shoot his free throws, and he knocked both down before heading back to the locker room to get stitched up. Just one minute into the 4th quarter, there Smith was, checking back into the game. Most toughness I’ve seen from J-Smooth all season, and he definitely earned points with me for it. Kind of symbolic of the Hornets’ season, to be honest; this franchise has been punched in the mouth on more than one occasion over the past year, but they have bounced back each time, and now they’re in the playoffs!
NEXT GAME: The Hornets look to hang onto the 6th seed on Friday night when they host the 38-40 Phoenix Suns at 7 PM. New Orleans is 2-1 against Phoenix this season, and their one loss (the game when the Hornets first lost Okafor to injury) shouldn’t have even been a loss. You can bet that this Hornets team is not about to let up; they know what is at stake, and they do not want to see the Lakers until they absolutely have to. See you in the Hive as New Orleans looks to pad its lead over Portland and Memphis! GEAUX HORNETS! PLAYOFF BOUND!