The New Orleans Hornets set expectations near zero after they opened the season with a 4-23 record and shut down Eric Gordon with a right knee injury, but now they are playing a much feistier brand of basketball. Just ask the Indiana Pacers, who were lucky to escape with a 117-108 home win over the Hornets in overtime on Tuesday night.
A scorching 72.2 percent shooting in the first quarter allowed the visitors to carve out an early 31-24 lead, and that hot shooting endured to the intermission -- the Hornets hit an astounding 69.7 percent on field goals in the first half. Pacers head coach Frank Vogel tried to slow New Orleans down with a timeout with 9:33 remaining in the opening quarter, but a smooth three from Marco Belinelli, transition layup from Gustavo Ayon and mid-range jumper off a curl cut from Trevor Ariza forced Vogel back out of his chair just two minutes later to call yet another timeout. His theatrics didn't make an immediate impact on the course of the game, but eventually Vogel got his chance to impact the game down the stretch. Roy Hibbert kept Indiana within striking distance in the first half.
Eastern Conference NBA All-Star reserve Roy Hibbert discarded his face mask for the first time since breaking his nose against the L.A. Lakers on Jan. 22, and responded with a career-high 30 points on 11-17 shooting. Hibbert helped the Pacers withstand the Hornets' early surge by pouring in a quick 19 points in the first two quarters while the Hornets tried single overage, and then he closed the door in overtime with some clutch plays to punctuate the hard-fought win. The Indy big man found success by anchoring himself in the paint against overmatched inferior defenders. Hibbert attempted all 17 shots within 10 feet of the rim, grabbed more offensive rebounds (7) than any Hornets player grabbed total rebounds and attacked the rim whenever the basketball hit his hands. His aggressiveness and effectiveness limited the Pacers' halftime deficit to just three points, and some overtime domination helped seal the win.
Solomon Jones and Chris Kaman failed to stop Hibbert on defense, but they combined for 26 points on on 11-17 from the field and more than held their own on the offensive end. In fact, that's the best way to describe the general offensive effort from the Hornets: they more than held their own. Grieves Vasquez (9 points, 7 assists) and Jarrett Jack (19 points, 10 assists) thrived by distributing the ball in the post and along the perimeter. Aside from the success down low by Kaman and Jones, Marco Belinelli stroked his jumper whenever afforded space, and hit double-digits in points for the eighth straight game by notching 15 on the night.
Trevor Ariza turned Danny Granger into a non-factor on the offensive end -- Granger only scored 14 points on 4-14 shooting -- by applying serious defensive intensity along the perimeter. On offense, Ariza continued his stretch of hot play and pumped in 21 points and 5 assists hit a clutch 16-foot catch-and-shoot jumper to tie the game at 100 with 5.4 seconds remaining in regulation. The Pacers led prior to that shot because of strong second halves from Paul George and Darren Collison. After the intermission, Collison worked high pick-and-roll with Hibbert and David West more than usual in the second half, as he scored 14 of his 18 points and dished out five of his six assists during that span.
Paul George never got his outside stroke going, as he shot just 1-6 from three started 1-9 and missed a potential game-winning jumper at the end of regulation, but his willingness to attack the rim came in handy during the overtime period. George did not contribute as much as Hibbert with regards to the 54-36 points in the paint advantage for Indiana, but his efforts enjoy praise just the same. He angled and sliced his way into the paint with more conviction later in the game and came up with some big baskets.
After a pivotal tip dunk to put the Paacers up five points with just over three minutes left in overtime, the Pacers swingman swiped a steal, dished an assist and then unleashed a wicked windmill dunk to set the Pacers' total at 117-106. The Hornets went cold in the overtime, and it became the Pacers' turn to get red hot from the field. A sparking 63.6 percent of Indy shots found the bottom of the net in overtime, and as the Pacers pulled out a 117-108 home win. George grabbed a loose ball and immediately turned it into a fast break opportunity at the end of extra time, so the Fresno State product focused on making the most of it. Take a look. Just as a reminder, George will be participating in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest at NBA All-Star weekend...