NEW ORLEANS â€“ The New Orleans Hornets appeared to be on their way to pulling off a huge upset on Friday at New Orleans Arena, but Monty Williams' young squad was unable to complete its comeback against one of the NBA's hottest teams.
New Orleans, who trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half, got as close as 84-83 at the 5:18 mark in the fourth quarter, but fell 96-89 to the visiting Memphis Grizzlies. The crowd of 13,698 saw the Hornets claw their way back in the third quarter, behind a strong defensive effort. New Orleans outscored Memphis 27-20 in the period, using a 12-4 run to close out the quarter.
Trailing 71-66 at the start of the final frame, New Orleans was in shouting distance of the team with the league's best record (14-3). However, the Grizzlies had an answer for each Hornets basket, never allowing New Orleans to take the lead.
Rudy Gay led Memphis with a game-high 28 points. Gay also had eight rebounds and five assists and a game sealing three-pointer at the 2:10 mark in the fourth quarter to keep New Orleans at arm's length.
"He's a good player," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said of Gay. "We needed him to play his game and that's all we ask. He's been playing well, but tonight he made his shots and that's exactly what we needed."
Former Hornet Quincy Pondexter came off the bench to score eight of his 16 points down the stretch. Pondexter was perfect from the field going 6-for-6, including four 3-pointers.
"(Pondexter) has been working on his shot a lot," said Zach Randolph, who had 15 points and seven rebounds. "Quincy has been playing great ball and his play has been what we need. Every time we come to New Orleans it's always a fight to the finish. It's a boxing match. It was a good game and everyone contributed."
Despite turning the ball over 16 times, Memphis was very efficient on offense. The Grizzlies shot 50 percent from the field and went 8-of-17 from beyond the arc. Marc Gasol scored 13 points to go with nine rebounds. Mike Conley had seven points and nine assists.
Ryan Anderson, Austin Rivers and Brian Roberts each scored 15 points for the Hornets (5-13). Jason Smith added 14 points and Xavier Henry scored 12 points in a starting role. New Orleans shot 48 percent from the floor for the game, including 50 percent (8-of-16) from three-point range. However, Memphis dominated the paint, outrebounding the Hornets, 46-29.
"It's close to the right effort," Williams said of his team. "We competed; we played hard. If we add some more execution then that complements the effort. I'm proud of how we competed, but my heart aches because you lost a game you had a chance to win."
Roger Mason chipped in with eight points, while Greivis Vasquez had four points and eight assists. New Orleans was without Al-Farouq Aminu (coach's decision) and Anthony Davis, who continues to recover from a stress reaction in his left ankle.
Nevertheless, the short-handed Hornets still managed to keep it interesting against a top-tier team in the league.
"No question this is how we need to compete," Mason said. "We feel bad because we came up short, but on a game-to-game basis this is the way our team has to compete to play in these games."
The Hornets have a quick turnaround as they travel to face the Miami Heat on Saturday night.
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