West hits late basket as surging Hornets capture their ninth in a row
By Jimmy Smith, Times-Picayune
Confounded, angry and out of his rhythm since the opening three minutes of the game after picking up two quick personal fouls, Hornets forward David West struggled the rest of the way to find a comfort level -- and his shooting stroke.
Fortunately for the Hornets, but not so for the Oklahoma City Thunder, West re-discovered his happy spot -- from 19 feet away at the right elbow over the outstretched arms of 6-foot-10 Serge Ibaka -- with 0.5 seconds remaining to give the home team a stirring 91-89 victory Monday night, their ninth straight, in front of a second consecutive sellout crowd at the New Orleans Arena.
West's shot, culminating with his 20th point of the game, came after Chris Paul stole an Oklahoma City inbound pass from backup center Nick Collison and scrambled up the floor to gain possession before being fouled by Collison and apparently aggravating the rolled left ankle he hurt Jan. 14 at Houston.
With the victory, the Hornets moved into third place in the Western Conference standings and sent the fast majority of the 17,233 fans home spent, but happy. The Thunder defeated the Hornets in the teams' two previous meetings this season.
"We get the last one," West said. "We didn't want to give them an opportunity to deal with a catch (and shoot) and get a shot off. I was able to get my rhythm there. I figured around two or three seconds would give the ball enough time to get there, and to make sure we ended up with the last possession of regulation.
"I got out of my rhythm early, coming out of the game with those two fouls (with 9:13 remaining in the first quarter). I really didn't get settled until the fourth quarter, didn't feel like I was in sync with the game. But we had some good defensive possessions to keep us close, and we did what we wanted to do. Just get a win."
Monday night's game followed a script that the Hornets had written, and successfully acted upon, in the past: fall behind by double digits (it was 15 against the Thunder), turn on a defensive switch, go on a nice run (17-6 to open the second quarter), then close the deal in the end, forcing the NBA's leading scorer -- Kevin Durant -- to miss his last five shots.
"That second quarter hurt us," said Thunder Coach Scott Brooks, whose team was held to 12 after a 33-point first. "We had a good offensive game going, and we turned the ball over seven or eight times -- and they scored 12 points off those turnovers. We fought back and made a game of it, but they made shots down the stretch that we would normally make."
West scored the last eight points of the game for the Hornets after Paul exhibited some expected fourth-quarter theatrics: drawing a charge against Kevin Durant with 5:40 remaining and the Hornets down three, following that with a 3-pointer to tie the score, then feeding West on back-to-back jumpers with 1:53 and 57.2 left that tied the score after Oklahoma City had taken two- point leads
Paul's strip of Collison was the key defensive stop, as he took the ball away following an inbound pass that went to Collison from Jeff Green on New Orleans' end of the floor.
"I tell our bigs all the time when you do dribble handoffs, don't hold the ball out there because good guards will get their hands in there," Paul said. "I was denying Russell Westbrook. When Collison tried to hand it off, I got my hand in there."
Paul chased the ball up the court, with Westbrook and Collison in pursuit. Collison fouled him from behind -- the Thunder still was under the foul limit -- setting up West's eventual game- winner, and some home-remedy for the ankle from Paul's mother, Robin.
"We'll be all right," Paul said. "My parents are in town. I'll let my momma pray over it or something. I'll be all right. ... It's the physicality of the game. You get banged up, but my teammates were there for me. D-West ended it. Thank goodness. It we went to overtime, I was man down."
Durant led the Thunder with 22 points, and Green had 19 and Westbrook 18 points and 10 assists.
"It was a heck of a ball game," Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said. "Both teams played extremely hard; both teams battled to the last play of the game and they won. They're a good team. They've won (nine) in a row for a reason. We missed some shots down the stretch that we normally make. We got beat by a very good basketball team tonight."
WEST WILL WAIT: West, who can opt out of the last year of his contract this summer, reiterated his stance on waiting until season's end to make any decisions on staying or signing an extension.
A Yahoo report indicated that General Manager Dell Demps had made an extension offer to West's representatives at Octagon, but West said that an extension offer "has always been out there. But just in terms of making a good business decision, I'm not sure that would be smart.
"I've been saying the same thing: I'm just going to wait until the end of the year, and I want to make the best decision I can make in terms of my future," West said. "I've had an opportunity to talk with Dell. We have an understanding in terms of what's out there, but I'm just going to play ball right now."
West is scheduled to earn $7.5 million next season. He earns $8.2 this year.
West, a seven-year veteran who was drafted by the Hornets in 2003, said he's unconcerned whether his market value, or bargaining power for an extension, might diminish under the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement.
Demps declined comment.
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Jimmy Smith can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3814.