The defending NBA champs and winners of four of the last nine titles are in a serious world of hurt against a Hornets team that’s too new at this stuff to know it has no business treating the mighty Spurs like the junior varsity.
New Orleans was supposed to take one look at Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli and curl up in the fetal position and call for its mommy. Hasn’t happened. Not even close. Instead of showing the respect that a champion is supposed to deserve, the Hornets have grabbed this series by the throat and shows no signs of letting go until there’s no life left in it.
You don’t eke out victories against a team like San Antonio, which has that half-court, late-game stuff down as pat as anybody in the business. If you hope to beat them, you want to do it big, and that’s what the Hornets have been doing. They learned that during the regular season, when the upstarts from the Big Easy lost the two relatively close games they played against the Spurs and won the two that were blowouts.
And that’s what they’re doing in these Western Conference semifinals. Led by Chris Paul, who has to be the best point guard in the game, they’ve run the Spurs off the court in two wins by margins of 19 and 18 points. What Dwyane Wade did a couple of years ago in leading the Heat to a title, Paul is doing for New Orleans.
The Hornets have done it because they’re simply younger and faster and more energetic than the aging Spurs. Twice on New Orleans’ home court, the Spurs had a half-time lead. Twice they’ve been utterly dusted in the second half.
Home court has its advantages, but that’s not a lot of reason for optimism, because the Hornets have won there, too, during the season — by more than 30. There is no fear factor for these kids.
This is not what was supposed to happen. All of us experts were positive that the Spurs would show their playoff chops, that they’d cut the kid Paul down a couple of pegs and make life hard for fellow All-Star David West. Tim Duncan would dominate inside. Parker would run the methodical half-court offense. Ginobili would come off the bench and ignite the rallies when they were needed. Experience would prevail.
Turns out experience is overrated when a guy like Paul is running the show. In two games, he’s played all but 14 of the combined 96 minutes and he’s committed just three turnovers. Set against those are 25 assists; nobody on the Spurs has more than 14 for the two games.
If there’s a way to shut Paul down, the Spurs have yet to discover it. There’s no shame in that; no one else has, either. But if they can’t stop Paul, they can’t stop the Hornets. End of story.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
I know that it doesn’t really get desperate until a team has lost a game on its home court, and the Spurs have yet to play one at home. But these New Orleans wins aren’t flukes; they’re not games won on lucky shots and dubious calls and lucky bounces.
If the Spurs could look at one thing they’ve done better than the Hornets, there would be something to build on. But it’s not as if they have to fix one or two things. They have to fix everything.
The Hornets are outshooting San Antonio. They’re also outrebounding them. They have more assists, more steals and fewer turnovers. The only place the Spurs have anything that can be considered an edge is in free throw attempts and blocks, and even that is razor thin — a margin of one more in each category.
The Spurs probably won’t get swept. They have on great effort in them. You have to believe that of the defending champs. But what they don’t have in them is youth and energy and the utter fearlessness of kids who don’t understand they’re not supposed to be able to do this.
The Spurs have to win four of five to snatch this victory from the jaws of defeat. They have to do it against a team it can’t keep up with. The odds aren’t good.
It’s time to panic.
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