Vasquez, Hornets ease past Pistons

NEW ORLEANS — Greivis Vasquez was there when the New Orleans Hornets needed him, most importantly near the end of the team’s game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night at New Orleans Arena.

Vasquez scored 25 points, including a running bank shot with 12.1 seconds left, and the Hornets held on for a 100-95 victory.

The win, which gave the Hornets (21-39) a 2-0 season sweep of Detroit (23-38), came after losses in back-to-back games, including a 45-point steamrolling Wednesday at Oklahoma City.

The win over the Pistons also came on a day it was announced that one of the team’s emotional leaders, backup center/power forward Jason Smith, would be lost for the season with a shoulder injury. And, rookie starting power forward Anthony Davis sat out his second consecutive game with a sprained/bruised shoulder.

Led by 27 points and 10 rebounds from New Orleans native Greg Monroe, the Pistons battled all game. New Orleans led just 96-95 when Ryan Anderson missed a 3-point attempt. However, Al Farouq-Aminu and Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey tied up for the ball with 32.1 seconds left.

Aminu won the jump ball, and Vasquez ran the clock down before making his move and giving the Hornets a 98-95 lead.

“In my head were all the games that we couldn’t close, and we lost,” said Vasquez, who had 13 points and four of his nine assists in the fourth quarter and finished with no turnovers. “Finally, I was really calm, and I got a good bucket for us.

“But I thought we played with a lot of energy in the second half, great defense. Lance (Thomas) was outstanding. Obviously, we were undermanned.”

It was a game in which many Hornets stepped up. Guard Eric Gordon scored 21 points. Anderson had 19 points, 13 rebounds and a big basket with a minute left. Small forward Aminu had 14 rebounds, including six offensive, and Thomas came in and slowed down
Monroe briefly, but it was key.

Playing aggressively, the Hornets had a 47-40 edge in rebounds and shot 31 free throws to Detroit’s 16. But the Pistons had a shot at the end.

The Pistons had taken a
93-91 lead with 1:58 left, after Jason Maxiell, off a pretty
22-foot pass from Jose Calderon, and Monroe, off an inside pass from Maxiell, had consecutive dunks.

But Vasquez drove, was fouled and sank two free throws, tying the score at 93 and setting up a key segment for the Hornets. With 1:15 showing, Gordon drove for the basket on a fast break and was fouled. He made the first free throw and missed the second, but Stuckey knocked the ball out of bounds. After the play was reviewed, Anderson wasted no time driving for a score and a 96-93 lead with 1:02 left.

Ten seconds later, Maxiell rebounded a miss by Monroe, dunked and was fouled. He missed the free throw, however, leaving Detroit trailing by one.

Anderson went for the dagger but missed. Fortunately for the Hornets, Aminu was there. Stuckey had position, but Aminu, four inches taller, with long arms and a leaper, was able to get his hands on it.

“We’re taught to make plays aggressively,” Aminu said. “It was just a play I had to make.”

The Hornets led 91-84 and seemed on their way to victory after Gordon drove for a basket with 4:03 left. But that’s when Pistons guard Brandon Knight, who finished with 22 points, came up with some big plays. He drove for a basket, sank a 3 and drew a charge from Gordon.

Then came the dunks by Maxiell and Monroe. The Hornets called timeout.

“I thought we had the momentum after that,” said Monroe, the former Helen Cox High All-American. “But they made more plays than we did down the stretch. That’s what makes it a tough loss.”

With the score tied at 80, Vasquez came up with two big baskets. First, with 7:50 showing, he nailed a 26-foot 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down. After Aminu made a steal with the Pistons on the fast break, Vasquez brought the ball back out, then drove against smaller Will Bynum for a basket, giving the Hornets an 85-80 lead. It sparked the Hornets on an 11-4 run that produced the 91-84 lead.

Thomas gave the Hornets a boost in the third with his defense against Monroe. He had a tip-in that put New Orleans on top 70-69 with 1:07 left. Next, Monroe was called for a loose-ball foul as the two battled, and Thomas sank one of two free throws with 53.5 seconds showing.

Anderson hit a double-clutch 3 with 10.7 seconds left, giving the Hornets a 74-69 lead at the end of the quarter.