The New Orleans Hornets traveled to San Antonio supremely confident and firing on all cylinders. They had held serve at home against the defending champs with relatively easy wins and took a 2-0 lead into the Alamo where it appeared the Spurs would be forced to make a valiant but unlikely last-ditch defense. Chris Paul & Co. had been running the aging Spurs out of the gym in convincing fashion. The team that was supposed to just be happy to be here had won six of seven against two of the Western Conference’s major powers of the last decade and barely broken a sweat.
At no point did this team look wide-eyed, lost or as if they were anything but completely comfortable with the pressure and the situation. It’s remarkable, and I can’t remember the last playoff newcomer to play with this level of confidence and composure. But San Antonio showed they weren’t ready to lay down after a Game 3 victory. In Game 4 tonight they went one step further, proving there’s a reason they’ve had so much playoff success and that New Orleans are still the underdogs.
Tony Parker Photo Credit: Icon/SMI
Game 4 was a chance to take a likely insurmountable 3-1 lead for the Hornets and prove that their speed and energy were simply too much for the old guard. The pressure was on San Antonio to show that they could simply keep up. But the Spurs didn’t just keep up, they ran circles around the Hornets and made New Orleans look like the creaky and slow squad. Meanwhile the Hornets were the ones playing stiff and hesitant, as if the pressure was on them — and that’s not the attitude that got them here.
San Antonio made a conscious and consistent effort to get into transition and put the Hornets on their heels, pushing the ball after every rebound and even after some made baskets. They aggressively took the ball to the basket, and Tony Parker led the charge with a stellar first half. The Spurs got after every loose ball with more tenacity, they were more active on the offensive glass and they were hustling on each play. San Antonio took everything New Orleans does well and did it better.
The final result was an embarrassing 100-80 drubbing, and it wasn’t even as close a game as the final score would indicate. For the umpteenth time, the Spurs made anybody who wanted to write them off look foolish. Regardless of age or home-court advantage, this team is still the most difficult in the NBA to beat in a seven-game series.
What went wrong and what needs to change for the Hornets after the jump…
The most interesting matchups in the series are at power forward and point guard, and the Spurs won both. Parker was assertive, bringing it to Paul. He was getting penetration early, posted Paul up and then hit a couple of outside jumpers to keep the D honest and force Paul to go over screens. He’s a streaky shooter, but when those jumpers are falling for Parker it makes him nearly impossible to defend.
At power forward Tim Duncan was crisp, looking as fresh and aggressive on both ends as he has all series. He was all over the place on offense and finished with 15 boards, 4 blocks and 22 points on an economical 10-of-13 from the field. Meanwhile, the physical defense of Duncan and Fabricio Oberto on David West threw him off his game. West shot just 4-of-15 and ended up expending most of his energy on the defensive end. Like the rest of the Hornets, he was in react mode all game.
Also of note up front is the fact that Tyson Chandler didn’t attempt a single field goal all evening, recorded just 5 rebounds and nearly fouled out. Credit Tim Duncan and the rest of the Spurs bigs for making his life difficult, but even so Byron Scott and Chris Paul simply can’t let him be such a non-factor. Even if it’s just having him swing to the hoop for oops or follow-ups on drives the the basket the Hornets need him active and with his head in the game.
This was an extremely disconcerting loss for the Hornets, but I’m sure Byron Scott is reminding them right now that they have home-court advantage in this series and they’ve won 17 of their last 18 games in New Orleans Arena. They don’t need to win a single game at the AT&T Center to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
True enough, but that doesn’t assuage all the concerns and self-doubt that can crop up after a beatdown like tonight.
New Orleans needs to be on their best behavior in Game 5 because the San Antonio Basketball Machine has awoken. They have proven not only that they will defend their house, but also that they can dominate in all phases of the game on any given night. If the Hornets aren’t careful and let this hangover bleed into Game 5 they could easily be looking at a must-win in San Antonio in Game 6. The Spurs have the edge in experience, leadership and savvy — if they play with more hustle and heart again then the Hornets don’t stand a chance.