By Nick Peruffo
The New Orleans Hornets were able to extend their franchise-record start to 7-0 this Tuesday night with a 101-82 win over a banged-up Los Angeles Clippers squad thanks in large part to a few unexpected contributions off the New Orleans bench. Reserve guards Willie Green and Jarryd Bayless both posted their best games of the young season, scoring 19 and 15 points respectively to lead the Hornets to a relatively easy victory.
“We talked about our bench having to step up and play with a sense of urgency and not have as many mistakes,” head coach Monty Williams said after the game. “Their bench came out and had 25 points in the first half and that was something that we didn’t plan for and we didn’t like it, but Willie [Green] and Jerryd [Bayless] offensively put up some points and I thought defensively we had good ball pressure.”
Green, a seven-year pro acquired via a trade that sent Craig Brackins to Philadelphia, posted his highest point total in nearly a full calendar year. After the game, however, the veteran emphasized what has become something of a mantra for this years squad: defense.
“I thought in the first half we were a little lethargic,” Green said. “Coach [Williams] was talking about it at the half and we made adjustments. Our defense picked it up in the second half. Jerryd was aggressive and we fed off his energy. We got it going offensively because our defense was sound. We were able to get stops. We kept our hands in the passing lane and got rebounds.”
Chris Paul echoed the sentiment.
“It’s our defense, Paul said. “We’re upset when teams score on us. A lot of times, we get on one another because we know what we’re capable of. We know what we do against each other in practice.”
The numbers back Green and Paul up. The Hornets forced 25 Clipper turnovers, leading directly to 35 points for New Orleans.
Bayless, who the Trailblazers swapped for a first round pick at the beginning of the season, had struggled thus far to find his niche in the New Orleans offense. Fortunately, his relationship with Williams was already established after their time together in Portland.
“[Williams] said just be patient, and that you’re not the only one going through it,” Bayless said. “He said this is really your training camp. The fact is I only had one practice before I started playing here, so it was a lot tougher than I ever imagined it was going to be, but hopefully I’ve gotten through it and this continues.”
As for the Clippers, head coach Vinny Del Negro’s squad was at considerably less than full strength. Eric Gordon was held out with a sore left groin, Chris Kaman suffered a game-ending ankle sprain in the first quarter, and Baron Davis was limited to only 10 minutes of largely ineffectual play. Presumptive Rookie of the Year canidate Blake Griffin also may have had his worst game of the season, posting only 10 points and 6 rebounds.
“When you’re playing all of those young guys, the game gets really fast for them,” Del Negro said. “You can’t expect to win at home or on the road when you have that many turnovers, so we’ve got to do a much better job of valuing the possession of the ball. (When you have turnovers) not only don’t we get a shot, but we give them a transition play or an easy opportunity, so it’s a double-edged sword. We’ve got to do a much better job with that.”
Paul added 13 points and 8 assists in a comfortable 28 minutes of action, while David West had 6 points and 6 assists in similarly condensed playing time. No New Orleans starter played over 32 minutes.
The Hornets will look to push their win streak to eight games this Saturday as they take on Williams’ former employer, the Portland Trailblazers.