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Great Start But Long Way To Go For Hornets

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The New Orleans Hornets earned plenty of credit last night in the opening game of the Western Conference Semifinals.

They thoroughly outplayed the defending champions from San Antonio, and they made it look pretty in doing so.  David West and Peja Stojakovic couldn't seem to miss.  Tyson Chandler ate up the boards.  Chris Paul was the CP3 we have all come to know and love.

So perhaps it will come as a surprise that this team really has quite a ways to go in order to win this series.  Of course, that's rather obvious given the fact that is a best-of-seven and that the opponents are coming off a title, but it is even more true given the way last night's worked out.  That's because though the New Orleans Hornets played a very good game and a nearly perfect fourth quarter last night, they won a game that was a lot closer than the 19-point final score indicated, and they won't necessarily be so fortunate the next time around.

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This isn't to take anything away from what the Hornets did in taking a 1-0 series lead last night.  But it remains worth noting that this was no run-of-the-mill19-point game.  The Spurs hung around for more than three quarters and only really began to all out of the picture once New Orleans' nearly perfect fourth quarter pushed the lead to twelve as the game clock closed in on two minutes to play.  It took a 7-0 spurt from the Hornets in a 65-second span starting with 2:15 left to play in order to put San Antonio away for sure.  Credit the Hornets for making sure that run occurred and for stepping on the Spurs once they saw the light of the buzzer at the end of the tunnel.

But we can also note that the Spurs were utterly terrible last night and wonder what will happen when these two teams meet again.  By the numbers, it's hard to imagine the Spurs playing a worse game, particularly in the playoffs.  Tim Duncan is not going to go 1-for-9 for 5 points again in this series.  He is simply too good for that.  Further, the Spurs' ball movement is good enough to avoid another night of 40 percent shooting, and as professional basketball players, it's hard to see another 60 percent effort from the line over the course of a night.

The Spurs got hammered on the boards, didn't shoot the ball well at all, went minus-5 in turnover differential and -- perhaps most of all -- really didn't bother to stop anyone.  The Spurs allowed the Hornets to go for 50 percent shooting and 40 percent from the three-point line.  Both of those figures are inordinately high, and it's hard to imagine no matter how soundly the Stingers play that they will be able to replicate that sort of shooting efficacy.  At times last night, it seemed like one of those rare times when a team can do no wrong.  David West completely destroyed the Spurs from mid-range, shooting 13-for-23 for 30 points for the game, and one can rest assured that the Spurs are going to adjust to this guy.  Peja Stojakovic bombed his share as well, including a couple of very contested shots that rattled in.

All of this is great for a Game 1 win.  But the signs for further games indicate that the Hornets are going to have to be very close to flawless in order to win consistently in this series.  Again, it would be a major mistake to take the impression from this game that the Hornets were 19 points better than the Spurs all night.  The Hornets had to pull away at the end in a game in which they were nearly 10 percent better from the field and three-point line, plus-16 on the boards and in which the man who is arguably the best power forward of all time had what might be his worst playoff game of all time on the other side.  And they led this game by just eight to twelve through the midst of the fourth quarter.

That's a scary thought.

Because the Spurs are not going to let this happen again.  They will shoot the ball better.  They will crash.  Tim Duncan will be Tim Duncan.  And Pop will be surly with the media.

The defending champs are going nowhere fast.  So no matter how much credit the youngsters earned, and no matter what the last game looked like, it's worth keeping the New Orleans Hornets on guard. 

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