By Brett Martel, AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) – As Greivis Vasquez dribbled along the perimeter in the final half-minute of a one-point game, he could only hope to overcome the memories of anti-clutch moments that have plagued the young Hornets.
“In my head I’ve got all the games that we couldn’t close and we lost,” Vasquez said. “That was one thing I got in my mind at the end when I took the last shot. We were just messing a lot of games up at the end and I’ve got to get better quick. … We have to make good decisions at the end of the game.”
Now there’s evidence of progress on that front.
Vasquez capped a 25-point, nine-assist performance by hitting a running floater off the backboard with 12 seconds left, and New Orleans beat the Detroit Pistons 100-95 on Friday night to snap a two-game skid.
“He’s one of the most improved players in the league,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said of Vasquez. “He’s got great court vision plus he shoots it well enough where you have to respect his shot.”
Eric Gordon added 21 points and Ryan Anderson 19 points and 13 rebounds for the Hornets, who were short-handed in the frontcourt with starting forward Anthony Davis sitting out his second straight game because of a sprained left shoulder. New Orleans was also without 7-footer Jason Smith, a top reserve forward and center. The club announced earlier Friday that he’d miss the rest of the season with a right shoulder injury.
Anderson, known more for his scoring, said he knew he had to pick up some of the slack on the defensive end.
“We need to really get to the boards a little bit more, so that’s something I came out tonight and knew I needed to do,” Anderson said. “It’s tough because they’re a big team and we had to be active.”
New Orleans native Greg Monroe had 27 points and 10 rebounds for Detroit, while Brandon Knight added 22 points, including a 3-pointer that tied the score at 91.
Vasquez’s final basket made it 98-95. Rodney Stuckey then missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it in the final seconds, but Frank said that shot came only after their initial plan for a quick two points failed.
“We wanted to go directly into Greg,” Frank said. “We didn’t execute like we wanted to, and that was disappointing.”
Though not for Hornets coach Monty Williams.
“I was really pleased the way we defended the last play,” Williams said. “It was nice to see us execute properly. We forced Stuckey into a fast shot.”
New Orleans closed the third quarter with an 8-0 run, capped by Anderson’s second 3, to take a 74-69 lead.
New Orleans was still ahead 91-84 when Gordon scored inside, but Detroit responded with a 9-0 run that Knight began with a driving layup. Jason Maxiell then dunked, Knight came back with his tying 3 and Monroe dunked to give the Pistons a 93-91 lead with 1:58 left.
Vasquez then hit two free throws to tie it, Gordon added another free throw and then Anderson used a perimeter fake to set up a driving layup that made it 96-93. Maxiell had a chance to tie it when he dunked as he was fouled, but he missed the free throw, allowing Vasquez to put New Orleans up by three again with his late floater.
The Pistons wound up shooting 50 percent (39 of 78), scoring 56 points in the paint. But the Pistons also turned the ball over 14 times, were outrebounded 47-40 and were outscored at the free-throw line, 23-10.
The game was competitive throughout, with Detroit building the largest lead of either team at 10 points in the first quarter. There were 12 ties and nine lead changes.
“It was a tough game and both teams played really hard,” Monroe said. “A couple more plays could have won the game for us. They had more plays.
“They did a good job fighting for the ball,” Monroe added. “They just kept working harder than us, that’s all.”
Al-Farouq Aminu had 14 rebounds and Robin Lopez scored 10 points for New Orleans. Maxiell and Kyle Singler each scored 10 for Detroit, while Jose Calderon had 11 assists.
New Orleans struggled throughout the game to stop Monroe, who helped Detroit take a 14-4 in the opening five minutes with strong inside baskets to the delight of a large contingent of fans in his hometown.
Detroit maintained the lead into the second quarter, going ahead 33-25 on Stuckey’s fast-break layup.
New Orleans then surged ahead for the first time with a 10-0 run highlighted by Vasquez’s three-point play and Anderson’s 3-pointer.
Gordon had 18 of his points in the opening half, including six free throws, the last of which put the Hornets up 45-40.
The Pistons’ however, took a 49-47 lead into halftime after scoring the last five points of the period, including Monroe’s putback after he’d grabbed two offensive rebounds in the same possession.
NOTES: With Smith missing the remainder of the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Williams said the Hornets would try to sign another big man soon. … The game was the second and last between the teams. The Hornets won the first, 105-86 in Detroit on Feb. 11. … With Monroe being a local native, the Hornets permitted fans wearing T-shirts bearing his name to line the tunnel leading to the court from the visitors’ locker room, and they cheered wildly for the visiting Pistons as they took the court for the second half. … Sitting in the first few rows were singer and song-writer Brian McKnight, actor and “Treme” star Wendell Pierce, and former LSU star Tryann Mathieu.
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