The New Orleans Hornets turned a dominant fourth quarter into their third straight win tonight, coming from behind to beat the Houston Rockets at the New Orleans Arena, 88-79.
Roger Mason, Jr. lead the Bees to the win with a perfect quarter, scoring 15 of his season high 17 points in the final period. Mason, in the 4th, was 5-for-5 from the field, including three from downtown, and 2-2 from the free-throw line. The Hornets outscored the Rockets 29-10 in the 4th.
Mason’s scoring lit a fire under New Orleans, and under the crowd. When Greivis Vasquez fired in a three-pointer halfway through the 4th quarter the Hive erupted. He bounced to the bench, both hands still flexed in three-point signals, and from there the Hornets defense never let the Rockets (21-15) get close.
“They did a good job of packing the paint and really making it tough on us, and we didn’t do a good job of finding that open man and making that extra pass, me included,” said Rockets Guard Jeremy Lin after the game. “I’m the point guard and that starts with me. Tonight was just one of those ugly ones.”
New Orleans set the tempo from the beginning, and their defense shined in the 1st quarter, limiting the NBA’s top-scoring team to 22 points. The Hornets stole the ball 5 times, blocked once, and led Houston until late in the period. They kept Rockets’ starting guard James Hardin silent for ten minutes, before he started to heat up towards the end of the 1st, scoring 7 points in 80 seconds.
Hardin finished the game with 25 points, more than twice the total of the next highest Rockets player, on 9-of-18 shooting and 5-of-6 from the line.
New Orleans started the 2nd quarter on a 10-3 run, but both teams’ offense soon skidded to a halt, with the Hornets and Rockets only scoring 30 points in the quarter combined. Much of New Orleans’ scoring before the half came from 2nd chance opportunities and off of Rockets turnovers.
Jason Smith came off the bench tonight to put down 17 points and a season-high 10 rebounds, his first double-double of the season. He also dished out three assists, and had three blocks.
“Jason was a big part of that [rebounding advantage],” Hornets Head Coach Monty Williams said during his postgame press conference. “He distracted a lot of shots tonight. He had four fouls early in the fourth, and I didn’t even hesitate [to leave him in]. I just thought he brought something to the game that was helping our defense.”
“I can’t stress how contagious and how big of an effect Jason Smith had on the game,” said Hornets Center Robin Lopez. “his energy and his hustle out there was unbelieveable. I think it won us the game.”
The Hornets came out of the half with their trademark sluggishness, allowing Houston to start the 3rd on a 10-0 scoring run. Houston shot 4-6 from the arc, leading by as much as 11, and closed out the quarter ahead of New Orleans, 69-59.
The Hornets’ defense held the Rockets to season low scoring. The Bees’ D outrebounded the Rockets offense 30-10, stole the ball 11 times and blocked 10 shots. Houston committed 23 turnovers, which the Hornets turned into 23 points.
After the win, when Williams was asked about the keys to victory, he responded, ”Everyone has to have one heartbeat.”
The Hornets (10-25) face the Minnesota Timberwolves (16-16) on Friday. New Orleans has won every game in which they keep their opponents from reaching the century mark.
The New Orleans bench outplayed the Houston subs, outscoring them 42-22.
Vasquez collected his 12th double-double of the season, with 17 points and 11 assists. Vasquez is now ranked second in the NBA in assists per game, averaging 9.1. Former Hornets’ guard Chris Paul leads the NBA with 9.3 assists per game.
With additional reporting by Jason Saul