Vasquez's big second half helps Hornets beat Cavaliers

Peter Finney Jr., The Sports Xchange

NEW ORLEANS - Greivis Vasquez has been called out for sloppy, uninspired play by a coach before, but usually that kind of criticism comes in the form of four-letter words that would make even a grown man blush.

So when New Orleans Hornets coach Monty Williams, who doesn't curse, went on a mini-tirade at halftime Sunday with his team down 49-48 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Vasquez accepted the flak as constructive criticism and decided to do something about it.

After the Hornets committed 12 first-half turnovers - three each by Vasquez and Eric Gordon - Vasquez scored 20 of his team-high 25 points and dished out six of his nine assists in the second half to power the Hornets to a 112-92 victory.

The win gave the Hornets (26-48) a 4-3 record on their seven-game home stand.

Vasquez and rookie Anthony Davis, who recorded his 17th double-double of the season, broke open a tight game by combining for 29 points - 16 by Vasquez and 13 by Davis - in a 36-24 third quarter. Davis finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots.

Vasquez said Williams was particularly upset with him for his defense against Kyrie Irving, who scored 17 of his game-high 31 points in the first half and had plenty of wide-open looks. It was Irving's first game back after missing the last eight games with a sprained left shoulder.

Williams lit into Vasquez for his turnovers and what he saw as a lack of effort.

"That means he cares," Vasquez said. "He wants me to do better. I've got to get to a better level. Why would I get upset? I still haven't done anything in this game. He knows better. I love the way he coaches this team."

Vasquez teamed up with Davis in the second half on a series of penetration moves and alley-oop feeds for dunks. Ryan Anderson, who kept the Hornets in the game with 15 first-half points, finished with 23.

Davis said he has taken to heart Williams' message to run the court and use his speed and athleticism to beat bigger and heftier power forward to the basket. He said he relishes the maturing connection he has developed with Vasquez on the offensive end.

"I'm just trying to get in his vision and go somewhere where he can find me," Davis said. "I'm trying to run the floor each and every time we get the ball."

Cleveland got a boost with Irving's return, but the Cavs (22-50) lost their eighth consecutive game.

"We came out soft (in the third quarter)," said Cleveland coach Byron Scott. "I did not think we came out with the same intensity that we should have come out with. I give (Vasquez) a lot of credit. I think he did a great job, and we just did a terrible job."

"I feel good," Irving said. "My body is holding up right now. I credit the conditioning. I still didn't feel like I was doing enough. I hit a few shots, but I just wanted to win."

In building an 84-73 lead in the third quarter, Vasquez made all six of his shots from the field and dished out three assists, two of them alley oops feeds to Davis for resounding dunks and the other a no-look pass to Davis for yet another dunk.

The Hornets scored 15 consecutive points early in the third quarter -- nine by Vasquez and six by Davis -- to take a 65-53 lead. After Marreese Speights briefly stemmed the tide with a 20-foot jumper, the Hornets got three more points from Robin Lopez to complete an 18-2 run over a 3:42 span, putting New Orleans up 68-55.

Anderson said the Hornets' 4-3 home stand - which included big victories over playoff-bound Boston, Memphis and Denver - proved to him that his team is headed in the right directions.

"I hope we see that this is the right style of basketball," Anderson said. "We can beat any team when we control the tempo. We want to leave teams with a message that we're a tough team to play."

NOTES: The 112 points were the Hornets' third-highest total of the season... After committing 12 turnovers in the first half, the Hornets had just three in the second half... Anderson says Vasquez should be given every consideration at the NBA's most improved player this season. ... Vasquez said he saw Davis at a shopping mall on Saturday, and the rookie told him he wanted him back in the starting lineup. Vasquez had missed two of the previous three games with a sprained left ankle. "He asked me, 'Are you playing? I want you to play,'" Vasquez said. "That was nice coming from the franchise player."... The Cavaliers lost seven of eight games without Irving. Scott said Irving had made steady progress since spraining the AC joint in a March 10 game against Toronto. At the time, the second-year guard was expected to miss three to four weeks, and he returned in three. Scott said he liked what he saw of Irving in a Saturday practice. "It was just the way he was moving," Scott said. "I wanted to see if he could handle any type of contact, and he said it felt pretty good. If we thought he was in any danger, we wouldn't put him out there. If he's healthy and ready to play, this is what he's been asking for. The fact that he's been champing at the bit has been encouraging." ... After allowing 85 points per game during a three-game winning streak, the Hornets allowed 105 to the Clippers and 108 to Miami in their previous two losses. "Any defense starts with ball pressure," Williams said, indicating it had been lacking, especially with Vasquez slowed with the ankle injury.