I’ve been a Philadelphia Eagles for over 25 years. I’ve endured ups, downs, mediocrity and everything else associated with loving a team too much. But because I’ve lived in Washington for most of those years, and NFL League Pass is still a relatively new invention, I’ve seen more way more Redskins games than I have Eagles games — which means I saw plenty of Joe Gibbs in his heyday.
One of the staples of the Gibbs era was his ability to make halftime adjustments based on what the other team was or was not doing. Part of this ability was based on his stellar assistant coaching staff, and part of it was that Gibbs often paid attention to even the smallest of details.
New Orleans Hornets coach Monty Williams is from the Washington D.C. area (Oxon Hill, Maryland to be exact), so maybe he was somehow inspired by Gibbs last night, because his team’s second half play was key to the Hornets’ 92-81 victory.
Prior to the game, Williams was asked if he was concerned about his team’s energy level against the Wizards. Starters David West, Emeka Okafor and Chris Paul had all logged 40 or more minutes against the Boston Celtics, and now they had to turn around and play again the next night, on the road no less. Still, Williams had no concerns, saying:
“It is one of those situations where I have to trust the bench tonight. We have to play a certain way every night and that’s with high intensity and with a high level of energy, and I’ll think our starters and our bench will do just that.”
In the first quarter, thanks to Okafor and Trevor Ariza (nine and seven points in the period respectively), the Hornets had that high level of energy and led 24-23. However in the second quarter, when they relied on their bench (Jarrett Jack, Marcus Thornton, Jason Smith) they allowed the Wizards to take control of the game. Washington, led by John Wall’s seven points, shot 52-percent in the second quarter. They Wizards led by as much as 13 points, before Wall had to go to the bench to avoid a late foul and Lester Hudson’s backup point play led to some disarray for Flip Saunders’ squad. Still, the halftime score was 47-42 in favor of Washington.
In the third quarter, the Hornets came out with an intensity level that the Wizards simply could not match, especially in the confident vocality offered from New Orleans’ leaders. As Kyle Weidie commented via Twitter:
“Chris Paul and David West came out woofing in the third..pretty much took the game then for NOLA.”
Paul, after watching Wall put on a seven point, seven assist and two turnover performance in the first half, held Wall to just three points, an assist and four turnovers in the third quarter. West seemed to be everywhere on the defensive end of the floor, and he and Okafor held the Wizards front line to just two points in the period. Offensively, Ariza did the most damage with 13 points. The Wizards shot 25-percent (4-for-16) in the third, and were held to just 15 points to 26 for the Hornets.
Washington spent most of the fourth quarter trying to play catch-up, but it was to no avail. The adjustments New Orleans made at halftime completely flustered the Wizards, especially Wall and Hudson (veteran Kirk Hinrich missed his second consecutive game with a thigh bruise). After the game, Williams was asked about the difference in the second half:
Other reactions from the Hornets about their second half turnaround:
“Coach just told us to come out and be way more aggressive in the second half. We had just gotten a hard fought victory in Boston last night, and it seemed like in the first half we were headed towards a let down. But coach put a stop to all of that in the second half, he told us to pick up the defensive intensity, and we just battled back. Plus with John Wall, I mean he’s good, he’s talented, but he’s young and young guards are turnover prone, so we took advantage of that in the second half too.” -Jarrett Jack
“We just had to settle down and stop letting them dictate the tempo, and you do that through defense, and coach had to remind us of that. We’re a defensive team, and that’s how we’re going to win games, we’re not going to win shootouts and outscore teams, and if we hadn’t reeled it in, that’s exactly what would have happened. We had a tough game last night in Boston, and guys played a lot of minutes, so we weren’t exactly as focus as we should have been. But hey, we have a coach for a reason right? He got us re-focused, and in that third quarter, Chris and I came out with an intensity that Washington wasn’t really ready for.” -David West
And finally, before the game, Monty Williams said he really didn’t care about the Paul/Wall matchup, and that was something mainly for the fans and writers to focus on watching. But he reflected on it a bit after the game: