By Aggrey Sam
–From the start, something about this game feels wrong. Maybe it’s the white out. Played out. Why not stick with the gold/yellow t-shirts instead? Maybe it’s the fans. Was booing the refs during their intros a reaction to the David West injury in Game 6? Or maybe it’s me. Is being stuck in the “pigeon’s nest” ((c) Toney Blare, my missing partner in crime) for Game 7 making me imagine things? Regardless, the Spurs have that been there, done that, let’s-win-this-thing-grimy-and-get-out-of-Dodge look about them that nobody else in the New Orleans Arena–fans, Hornets employees, the team itself–seems to have.
–A Tyson Chandler tip-in starts the scoring, promptly followed by a Duncan bank shot. Will Duncan pull off a vintage performance in the series’ final game? I’ve kinda been waiting for him to explode, like the 40 and 15 he gave the Suns in Game 1 of the first round. Hasn’t done it so far, but there’s no time better than the present.
–The Spurs are denying CP the ball in the backcourt. On TV, maybe it seemed like great denial D (then again, my view wasn’t that much better, if at all, so scratch that), but as Lang later pointed out to me via email, CP just seems a step slow tonight. That theme will continue throughout the game. The Hornets can’t get into their flow without CP to initiate the offense early. Note: I find it funny that when Lang emails me, he always continues the email thread started over All-Star weekend, titled “Yo…where are you?” It somehow involves Andre Aldridge and Bourbon Street.
–As I note CP’s early ineffectiveness, he goes coast to coast and even though he misses the layup, West is there for a monster follow. Then, Mo Pete makes a hustle steal, gets it up to CP in transition. He strangely waits, seemingly allowing the Spurs to get back in transition D, then throws an oop to Tyson for a huge finish over TP on the delayed break. Sorry for doubting the man.
–West is keeping the Hornets in it early with his usual assortment of mid-range jumpers, jump hooks and fadeaways.
–Where “everybody on your feet” blocks my view.
–Tyson might be the League’s best at tapping out offensive boards to teammates. Seriously, watch him next season. He’s made it an art form.
–Bow Wow, Brian McKnight and Forrest Whitaker are all here, but the biggest celeb in the building is ESPN The Magazine writer and N.O. native Elena Bergeron.
–Ime Udoka the warrior (look up his exploits while hooping for the Nigerian National Team) hits a trey. He’s big in this series. In fact, all of the Spurs’ role players have been quietly balling. Kurt Thomas is big on the glass, Bowen is making an aggressive Peja work for everything, Oberto’s value is suddenly clear to me (makes the extra pass from low or high post; another irritant on D) and Fin still hits big shots.
–Speaking of the Spurs’ bench, Pop subbing Udoka for Manu early was a great subtle move. You know Manu will be cool with it, as he comes off the bench most of the season anyway, plus Pop snuck him back in for the last few minutes of the quarter.
–Toward the end of the first quarter, Jannero Pargo plays tough D on TP, is called for a suspect (from this vantage point) foul. Does it again and forces a turnover. CP ends up with it and throws up a half-court heave at the buzzer, drawing contact from Manu. I say give him the three shots, legitimate shot attempt or not. After a long review, the officials rule the foul happened after the shot. This is why continuation is bad. Noteworthy: Pop had his guys huddled up during the break; the Hornets, including Byron Scott, were standing around and waiting for the refs to make a decision. Spurs are up, 23-20, after one.
–The Spurs start the second with Horry, Duncan, Udoka, Finley and Ginobili–no point guard. The Hornets start with Ely, West, Bonzi, Pargo and CP. Maybe it’s a knee-jerk reaction to the Spurs denying CP full-court, but I would pressure the Spurs with this lineup, simply to change the flow of the game. Also, I can’t believe I’m writing this, but free Hilton Armstrong–at least he’ll give you energy.
–For that matter, where’s Julian Wright? I know he makes some young mistakes, but Bonzi has been making old mistakes and the Spurs cannot mess with Julian’s athleticism and energy–not to mention, he’s probably the best defensive matchup for Manu. If he runs around like a chicken with his head cut off or gets cooked on D, take him out. But with a young team, I feel like you pull out all the stops in Game 7.
–Ely misses shots on his first two touches, the first two Hornets possessions of the quarter. I don’t think he’s a black hole–I think the Hornets are running post-ups for him, based off his advanced knowledge of how to score on Tim Duncan from practicing against him last year. Coach of the year, my…
–Bonzi misses a relatively open layup on the break. Maybe being in New Orleans (the city, not the team) isn’t a good look for him.
–Pargo is aggressive, overly so. Maybe he’s compensating for CP not having it working yet. Pay attention to that.
–The Honeybees perform a strange, barefoot routine. This seems unsafe to me.
–Big Shot Bob hits a trey. I don’t feel enough venom from the home crowd.
–Ely is a disaster out there. Ditto for Bonzi.
–For some reason, I get the feeling that David Stern decided, “We’ve milked all the TV ratings out of this Hornets team we possibly can.”
–Bowen beats the shot clock with his second corner trey of the game. CP connects with Tyson on an oop shortly thereafter. Still, it seems like the Spurs counter every Hornets “momentum play” with a “sit down, shut up” play of there own. TP hits a tough and-one immediately afterwards to put his squad up 11.
–CP just might not have it tonight. I eat my words as he goes for two off the glass, then draws a foul in the paint. Most importantly, Ric Flair is here. Whoooo!
–As if “The Nature Boy” inspired them, the Hornets go on a run. Consecutive treys by Peja and Mo Pete cut the deficit to three, then Peja hits a long deuce over Manu off a step-back move. Only up one, the Spurs call timeout. The big Peja heads on a stick run around–and I see a big Mo Pete head on a stick, as well!
–Manu hits a trey out of the timeout. The Spurs always seem to execute out of timeouts., the same way the weather always seems to get warmer in the summer. West misses an ill-advised trey, then TP goes coast to coast, plus one. Two Manu treys put the Spurs back up 11.
–After a CP scoop shot to beat the halftime buzzer, the Hornets trail, 49-42 at the break.
–Pop is doing an excellent job using timeouts to kill any type of momentum the Hornets have, like after a diving Tyson save leads to one of CP’s trademark tough transition layups. Julian Wright danced through the entire timeout.
–Pargo connects with Tyson for an oop, then goes to the rack for a pretty scoop shot. See above.
–Not to short-change you of my brilliant third-quarter analysis, but it was basically more of the same: San Antonio playing heady and hitting big shots–as Lang would write, “lulling them to sleep.” Then, you had the Hornets making big plays and getting the crowd emotionally involved, but not able to sustain any runs, despite the benefit of some questionable officiating in their favor. Spurs lead 71-56 after three.
–Is this the last Honeybees routine of the season?
–Hugo the Hornet comes up from the “Hate Me Now” tower, but the fans, while appreciative, seem a bit half-hearted in their support.
–CP starts the fourth with a pull-up from 15. The next is an oop to Tyson. The crowd is back.
–Parker comes back with a tough pull-up J of his own, followed by Pargo hitting one off a spin pivot (the Kobe move) that I saw him work on at the end of a practice last week. The two trade buckets again, this time layups in traffic.
–The Spurs call timeout. Udoka hits a trey. Like warm weather in summer, I tell you.
–CP with a nice dish to Tyson for two. Pargo with a difficult, elephant-ballsy floater.
–Where is David West? I guess he can afford to go missing if Duncan is going to shoot air balls. CP with a tough shot in the paint. 78-70.
–Udoka gets a crucial offensive board, which leads to Duncan getting fouled and hitting two free throws.
–CP with a rare bad turnover, then misses an open trey. He makes up for it, however, by drawing an offensive foul on Manu for an elbow.
–Last T-shirt dance of the season? That is where Christian shines.
–Turnovers are killing the Hornets right now. Byron is not smirking or in a B-boy stance.
–CP called for a suspect foul on a scramble for the ball with Manu.
–Just as I think enough with Pargo as the No. 1 option, he hits an even more elephant-ballsy trey, then pushes the rock in transition and draws a foul.Hits both shots, 81-77 game with 3:10 left. Jannero Pargo? I need a drink.
–Tyson is called for a touch foul on Parker. TP hits both.
–Pargo gets wild with it and is tied up in the lane. After a jump ball and three offensive boards, Pargo hits the elephant-ballsiest trey so far to cut the lead to three. Then, he misses a trey in transition (which would have been a Sam Cassell-level elephant-balls trey) and TP hits a pull-up from 15. Hornets timeout. 85-80 with 50 seconds to go.
–CP misses a tough layup, then fouls out with 25 seconds left. The MVP chant was fitting, even though tonight wasn’t his best performance. Spurs win it, 91-82.
–Bottom line: Inexperience finally became a factor for the Hornets at home. Forget the stat lines (CP: 18, 8 boards 14 dimes, 4 steals; West: 20 and 9 boards), the two All-Stars didn’t have their usual nights. On the other end, although they didn’t shoot the ball well, the Spurs’ big three (Duncan: 16 and 14; Parker: 17 and 5 dimes; Manu: 26, 5 and 5) came up big–especially in the clutch.
–I don’t think anybody wanted to see the Hornets lose, but it was still a hell of a season. Completely unexpected, too–which made it even better. Now, however, they have a target on their backs. They’re a contender in the West, one of the best young teams in the League, along with the Lakers, Utah, Portland, Orlando, Atlanta and Philly.
–The next step, to me, is adding an athletic two-guard who can create his own shot. I think CDR would be perfect, if he lasts long enough in the draft. Mo Pete is a pro’s pro and while I understand why they paid him to come to town (although drafting Nick Young was a no-brainer to me–and I like Julian Wright), he’d better served in a reserve/mentor capacity. Bringing him off the bench would give them a shooter who could play minutes at the 2 and 3 (Bonzi was a mercenary and should not return, for everybody’s sake) and he’s a great locker-room presence who could bring a guy like CDR (or Brandon Rush, I guess) along.
–The Hornets aren’t necessarily a small-ball team, but David West isn’t an athlete (and isn’t really 6-9, I promise you) and Tyson, while a beast on the boards, isn’t the bulkiest of cats. A young Leon Powe/Paul Millsap/Chuck Hayes/Craig Smith type banger is what the doctor ordered. If a guy like that isn’t on the market for cheap this summer, I think D.J. White from Indiana (I would say Joey Dorsey from Memphis, but White is more skilled and let’s just say there’s no need to potentially disrupt the chemistry of the team) is the solution as a second-round pick.
–I know that doesn’t help the inexperience issue, but you just know CP is coming back hungrier now that he had a taste. Give him some young soldiers to grow with. That window is open for a long time.