By Aggrey Sam
Last night’s Suns-Hornets game was supposed to be a repeat of their last matchup (with the newly-traded Shaq watching from the sidelines) a thriller Peja won on a buzzer-beater trey in OT right before the All-Star break.
–It certainly started out that way, as Amare and David West were going at it in the first quarter, both displaying legit 20-foot range and alternately killing each other with either post savvy (West) or athleticism (Amare).
–The strangest moment to me early on was Shaq flopping against Tyson Chandler. While Tyson isn’t the beanpole he was coming out of high school, there’s no way he’s bowling over Shaq that easily. It ended up being called a walk anyway. Tyson redeems himself with a vicious follow-up dunk, one of a few powerful bangs he had, over Grant Hill.
–Phoenix is a better rebounding team with Shaq, but they’re still clearly struggling to figure out their spacing on offense or a substitution pattern. When Shaq and Grant sub out, they are replaced by Diaw and Barbosa, going to a more Suns-like lineup. The Hornets counter with Jannero Pargo for Mo Pete and Motel 6 Armstrong for Tyson (two fouls), and a track meet begins. Before that, however, Dave West goes right at Diaw in the post for a deuce. After CP draws a second foul on Amare, Diaw slides to the five spot, with Grant coming back in at the Matrix position. As versatile as he is, he can’t do ish against West in the post. More buckets. West is a horse.
–Grant just flashbacked all over Motel 6.
–I can’t figure out who No. 43 is on the Suns. Oh snap, that’s Linton Johnson! When did that happen? The Chi product and Tulane grad ends up playing major minutes. Not a good sign. I know he’s supposed to replace some of Marion’s D, energy and hustle, but when you’re trying to win a title, Linton Johnson shouldn’t be an integral part of your rotation. He does seem to be enjoying his return to the N.O., as he was a Hornet last year. His ex-teammates give him a hard time all night.
–Grant is now playing the two for Phoenix, with Barbosa running the point and Diaw, Linton and Shaq on the frontline. These are not your run-and-gun Suns, for sure.
–Pargo is instant offense. With or without CP in there to set him up, he’s going bananas in and ends up with a cool 16 in the first half. Speaking of CP, he and Nash can’t buy a bucket. Nash actually went scoreless in the first half, but he did have 10 dimes. Mike James, on the other hand, looks completely out of shape and is struggling to make anything. Him and Shaq are the two worst finishers in this game. Wow, never thought I would write that, but the Diesel has lost a lot of lift.
–Robert Pack in the building.
–The Hornets, who have been down the entire game, but within striking distance, go on a mini-run, capped by a huge Tyson dunk in transition. They’re up four at the half.
–To start the third quarter, the West-Amare battle continues, but CP also comes out firing, making his first two jumpers after a cold first half. Then, he hits Tyson with an oop in traffic, followed by another vicious Tyson put-back dunk and two Mo Pete jumpers off a curl (looks like the same set play) in a row. Also, Dave West is money out to 20 feet.
–The Hornets start to blow it up open and go up a dub, 97-77 after three.
–As good as West is, Amare shows his athletic superiority on one play, when West, realizing he has an open path to the bucket, takes a strong dribble and tries to ram it, but is pinned with two hands by Amare.
–Raja Bell has turned himself from a straight energy guy into a tremendous spot-up shooter and lockdown defender, but he’s crazy as hell. He bumps CP after Barbosa fouls him to get a tech for no reason, even apologizing afterwards. Then, he goes absolutely apeish on a ref for not getting a call, something I thought only the Kobes of the world could get away with.
–CP hits a ridiculous hanging, double-clutch and-one shot and the “M-V-P” chants start. He ends up with 25 and 15 dimes, by the way. West gets 27, Tyson has 12 and 15. Amare with 32 and 14 in the L.
–Two funny moments, to me at least: Tyson walks down to the opposite end of the floor in protest of a foul, then has to sprint back when he realizes it was called on the floor. Then, Peja explaining to Barbosa that he was called for an over-the-back foul when defending him in the mid-post. Apparently, Barbosa thought you could only be called for that when rebounding. Must be the foreign connection or something, because the ref couldn’t get his point across, but Peja could.
–Good job, Hornets fans. Sellout crowd of 17,931. It would be nice to keep one of the best teams in the League around, especially since I just got here. Maybe it was the “Buzz Fest” before the game. $1 beers will attract a crowd.
–Hornets win it, 120-103. My only complaint with Byron Scott is that he leaves his starters in too long. Free Julian Wright (not really–at least not yet)! Really though, free the Birdman! If Melvin Ely’s not gonna get minutes, they need an alternative to Motel 6. I saw local high school star Greg Monroe when I was on my way out. Maybe they could sneak him in for some help in the post.
Speaking of Greg Monroe, I went to see his high school play in the Louisiana state playoffs Tuesday night. They faced Washington-Marion, the school that kept them out of the state tourney (they call it the “The Top 28,” as they have the semifinalists in each of the seven classes meet at a neutral site) the last two years. I’ve seen Monroe play in the past, so I wasn’t shocked by his laid-back demeanor, as that’s just his nature. However, I was surprised that the undersized W-M team (who had a manager/assistant coach with a high-top fade) made the game such a battle, with Monroe and fellow 6-10 teammate Trevon Flores (who’s committed to Marist), as well as athletic 6-5 junior Taj Givens towering over them. Monroe didn’t have a dominating performance, ending up with 14 points, but showed flashes of the skills that made Georgetown, where he will play next season, and so many other schools want him so badly. His teammate at Helen Cox, senior guard Justin Fairman, stole the show with 19 points on a variety of slashing drives to the bucket, as Cox ended up winning in a squeaker, 50-43. Thanks to HC assistant coach Marco Borne.
Before I go, I have to shout out the Lady Engineers of George Washington Carver High School for Engineering and Science (aka E&S) for finally getting it done. E&S, coached by my guy Dave Hargrove, took down their arch rival, Central (which had won six titles in a row), to win the Philadelphia Public League girls title on Sunday, after falling to them three years in a row. Congratulations to Keisha, Marty, Shamyra, Vanessa, Shanda, Tesha, Sharay, big Brittany, little Brittany, Coach Ryan and anyone I might have left out. On the boys side, Temple-bound Andrew “Scootie” Randall and big Manny Jordan led Communications Tech over Frankford in a double OT classic. This was the first Pub chip I’ve missed, either live or on TV, since 2000, but I’m glad it was memorable.