NEW ORLEANS — For the New Orleans Hornets, it was a turnaround game Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves at New Orleans Arena.
From the previous game to this one. From the first half to the second half.
The result was a 104-92 victory, the Hornets’ season-high fourth in a row and avenging what coach Monty Williams termed “an embarrassing loss” in the teams’ previous meeting.
The Hornets (11-25) came back from an 18-point first-quarter deficit behind a determined defensive effort and a suddenly well-oiled offensive showing.
“We started off slow, but our bench came in and gave us a lot of energy, and the whole team fed off of that,” said small forward Al-Farouq Aminu. “We just kept it going.”
The Hornets bench, which had outscored opponents’ reserves by an average of 45-30 the previous six games, came up big gain, besting Minnesota’s shorthanded bench 45-14. Ryan Anderson scored 15 points, and Jason Smith continued his excellent play of late with 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds. And, Roger Mason had his second consecutive hot night, with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, 2-of-2 on 3-point tries.
New Orleans outscored Minnesota 64-46 in the second half, the opposite of what happened in the teams’ Dec. 14 game. Most important, the Hornets outscored the Timberwolves (16-17) in the lane 48-40. Minnesota had outscored New Orleans 70-42 in the paint in its victory in the previous meeting.
Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic, who had hammered the Hornets for a career-high 31 points the last time, was held to 18 this time. Smith said that was a key in the points-in-the-paint war.
“We wanted to stop Pekovic in the post, (small forward Andrei) Kirilenko on the backdoors (baskets) and (reserve) Dante Cunningham from getting offensive rebounds,” Smith said. “Those were the basics we focused on.”
Point guard Greivis Vasquez, slowed by foul trouble in the first half, led the second-half charge and finished with 18 points and a game-high 13 assists. Eric Gordon had 16 points, and Aminu had another strong performance, getting 12 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block.
The Hornets shot 64 percent (25-of-39) from midway in the third quarter until the end of the game.
“As the game went on, New Orleans, to their credit, turned up the intensity and had guys make some big shots,” said Wolves assistant coach Terry Porter, filling in for head coach Rick Adelman, who stayed in Minnesota with his ailing wife. “We struggled to make shots and make plays.”
The Hornets fell behind 29-11 in the first quarter, which ended with Minnesota leading 29-14. However, the Hornets gained momentum in the second and continued it in the third, taking a 70-61 lead by the end of the quarter.
The Hornets outscored the Timberwolves 10-4 to forge a 50-50 tie by the 6:36 mark of the third. Vasquez, who had just six points and one assist in the first half, was key, driving for baskets and assisting Aminu and Davis for dunks. After Aminu drove and kicked the ball out, Vasquez hit a 3 that gave the Hornets their first lead, 55-54, with 5:12 showing.
Vasquez assisted on three more dunks and drove for two baskets the rest of the quarter, and Mason hit a big 3 at the 2:48 mark for a 62-58 lead. The Hornets finished the quarter with an 8-2 run, with Anderson getting a tip-in and making a jumper.
In the fourth quarter, Smith scored 12 points, mostly working the pick-and-pop with Vasquez.
Minnesota built its lead to 17 points three times in the second quarter, the last at 39-22 at the 6:38 mark, but the Hornets rallied, scoring five straight baskets as its defense stiffened.
With 1:57 showing, Minnesota still led 44-32, until Anderson sank a 3-pointer and Lopez followed by beating the shot clock with a left hook. Gordon made a straight-away 3-pointer with 42.9 seconds left, bringing the Hornets to 46-40, which was the score at the half.
“That was big for us, just being down by six after the way we had played,” Vasquez said.