So it looks like the Hornets do still have some things to learn about the playoffs. After resembling more a tested springtime player than a playoff newbie, the Hornets ran up against the definition of a tested postseason veteran. The Spurs not only out-executed the Hornets, shooting 11 percent better from the field, but they also outhustled a team whose average age is three years younger than the Spurs. San Antonio grabbed nine more rebounds, they passed the ball more (tallying 27 assists to the Hornets' 12) and they got back on defense quicker. Worse for the Hornets than the series being tied is that the Spurs seemed to have found their rhythm, and as they have shown for most of the last nine years, once they are in sync, they are in sync at home or on the road. With the Lakers and Jazz likely headed for six or seven games, the Spurs may take hard aim at a day or two of extra rest by trying to close this out in six.
If the Tim Duncan we saw in Game 4 is what the Hornets have to look forward to the rest of this series, they can't be happy. Slowed by a fever over the first three games of the series, Duncan emerged Sunday night healthy and hot of hand, not temperature. We're not talking about the 22 points on 10-13 shooting (well, maybe we're talking about that a little bit). But we were impressed by the 15 rebounds, four blocks and three assists Duncan contributed, numbers indicative of an effort that completely stymied New Orleans' offense, which was effectively put to bed about halfway through the third quarter. Typical of Duncan, he steadily worked the angles New Orleans offered him, quietly grabbing the boards and hitting the bank shots that didn't generate many highlights but did send the Hornets back to New Orleans likely wondering what they have got themselves into.
No one will say it, what with his second-place tally in the MVP vote and his offensive exploits against the Spurs, but Chris Paul has been used by Tony Parker in San Antonio. After posting 31 points in Game 3, Parker remained all but impossible to guard Sunday night. Teardrops in the lane, drives to the hoop, jumpers -- Parker hit them all in amassing 18 first-half points. And that wasn't all, not when you hand out eight assists and grab six rebounds while turning the ball over a mere two times. The blame doesn't lie entirely with Paul, especially when Parker has a guy named Duncan setting screens for him. But this year's MVP runner-up has to find a way to slow down Parker. And if that isn't with better effort, it had better be with help soon or the Hornets will be leaving the next game in San Antonio for summer vacation, not Game 7.
When a team has three stars as talented as Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, it allows players to focus on narrow areas of specialty, be it Bruce Bowen on defense or Michael Finley on three-point shooting. For Fabricio Oberto Sunday, that focus was on David West and making his night as miserable as possible. Made of equal parts defense and antagonism, Oberto's efforts helped limit West to 4-of-15 shooting and held him to only five rebounds. By the time the Argentinean had turned West over to the care of Duncan, all hope that West would be able to contribute in any positive way was lost.
If anyone reading this has seen Peja Stojakovic, please let Paul and New Orleans coach Byron Scott know. After averaging 24 points in the first two games of the series, Stojakovic scored a total of 14 points in San Antonio. If Peja's job is to shoot and open up the offensive spacing, but he connects on 31 percent combined in Games 3 and 4, it's fair to say he isn't doing his job, right? Could those playoff pressure demons that attacked Stojakovic while with the Kings be swirling around him again?
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