Chris Paul used the final 2.5 seconds of regulation to drain a game-winning three pointer to beat the Indiana Pacers, 103-100.
Paul's heroics followed a vicious three pointer by Danny Granger drilled in the face of two defenders to tie a game the Pacers ended up losing long before Paul created chaos at the final buzzer.
Give Paul credit, but the Pacers lost this game in the third quarter when they failed to take advantage of a depleted Hornets lineup, dug themselves a hole and then couldn't come up with enough stops to complete a late comeback.
There were several factors that combined to sculpt this L and each factor considered on it's own merits is frustrating to detail. But we must.
First of all, the Hornets were playing without power forward, David West which was a big break to begin with for the Pacers. Then toward the end of the second quarter, center Tyson Chandler tweaked a knee and never returned. Sounds great on paper, but the leftover bigs the Hornets had available, were plenty to handle an interior threat the Pacers could muster. In fact, the Pacers didn't even bother changing their attack to pound it inside.
Roy Hibbert didn't play a minute and in hindsight I can't help but think maybe he could've helped if the Pacers took a little more deliberate approach and exploited the mismatch Hibbert could create.
The next problem was Mike Dunleavy's foul trouble which pushed his minutes around. He picked up his third foul a few minutes into the second quarter and his game was never in sync. It's no coincidence that the Pacers jumped out to an early lead with Dun assisting on two early buckets and keeping the offense flowing, by the end of the first quarter, scoring seemed like it would be the least of the Pacers' problems on this night.
But then the O shifted down to a crawl in the third quarter. If only teams could throw out their lowest scoring quarter in each game, the Pacers would be championship caliber. Problem is that champions are willing and able to play 48 minutes at a high level. That qualifier is key, because this team plays hard for 48 minutes, they just rarely play well for all 48.
The ten-point third quarter left the Pacers down nine, only because the Hornets were trying to find something to work themselves as they shuffled through some strange player combinations looking for healthy bodies.
And while the Hornets were trying to find their way, the Pacers just couldn't connect. After Mike Dunleavy picked up his fourth foul he as the final eight minutes of the quarter and the offense took a breather with him.
It seemed like the Pacers were stuck on 61 for the whole quarter but it ended up being a four-minute drought, which "highlighted" the four points scored in the final 8:21 of the third quarter. Instead of seizing the game in the third quarter, the Pacers seized up and let the Hornets put the game in position for Chris Paul to carry them home.
So with the Hornets lacking any interior offensive threats, how did they score?
Well, by hitting open jumpers, of course. CP3, Peja Stojakovic, Rasual Butler, these guys can shoot it and the Pacers seemed to be a player short all night when the Hornets swung the ball around the perimeter. The final pass to the corner continually found a wide open shooter ready to fire. At that point the only defense is to close your eyes and hope to hear a clank.
The scary thing about all the open shots is that Peja and Butler did miss several open looks, especially early in the game. The Hornets shot 45% from the floor and 46% from 3-land, so those number may say the defense wasn't so bad. But the numbers don't include the open looks missed on the perimeter.
So when you consider the Pacers didn't take advantage of the absence of West and Chandler, Dunleavy's foul trouble altering the rotations, the bone-dry third quarter and the three-steps late perimeter defense employed by the Pacers, Chris Paul's game-winner, while spectacular, was a small factor in the Hornets win. New Orleans simply performed like the better team, took advantage of the Pacers problems and gave themselves a chance to gut out a win in the end. With Chris Paul, it's almost easy from that point.
Few other notes:
- Stephen Graham deserves mention for jump-starting the offense and giving the team life to begin the fourth quarter. His pair of 3-balls on either end of five points by Dunleavy, made it a game once again.
- T.J. Ford and Jarrett Jack struggled to keep up with Chris Paul. They join a long list of PGs to struggle against Paul, but his ability to get by Ford and Jack made things go for the Hornets O.
- Aside from the third quarter, the offense had some solid stretches. The first quarter especially saw the Pacers making an effort to push the ball to the rim and they found several easy buckets or the line, even carrying a positive free throw differential for awhile there.
- The rookies were not heard from tonight. I already mentioned that Hibbert didn't see any action at center. Brandon Rush didn't even see his uniform as he was not active for the first time this year.
- Marquis Daniels was active and gave it a go late in the first quarter but while active he obviously wasn't ready. He only played for two minutes and didn't return. Hopefully this was a step in the recovery process and not a big step back.
- After this one, the Pacers are probably happy to go to San Antonio tomorrow to get back to work. Although, playing the Spurs in a back-to-back roadie is less than an ideal situation. One thing we know, it will probably be interesting.