It's never fun to walk into a game that's already a quarter and a half done, but if you're going to be late, it's nice to walk into a Lance Stephenson to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist alley-oop. Having just hopped off a flight, I knew I was going to be a little late, but I was set on going and I'm glad I did. The crowd was as good as some regular season Bobcats games from years past. The court, the jerseys, the Honey Bees, and everything related to the rebrand looked incredible. The fans were decked out in purple and teal. Also, these guys called the Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic played some basketball.
From what I can tell, the first quarter and a half went pretty well for the Hornets. Cody Zeller hit a pair of jumpers, Kidd-Gilcrhist already had nine points, and Al Jefferson was already in double figures. Once I got there, the Hornets were up 11 points and I thought I might witness a boring blow out. However things started going in the Magic's favor. Elfrid Payton, a guy I loved coming out of last summer's NBA draft, got to the rack pretty easily two times in a row on Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson had two horrible turnovers. He really looked lost out there for a long stretch. Like he couldn't even dribble or catch simple passes. Being live, I tried my best to watch his body language, and I have to admit it was mixed. You could tell he was down on himself a few times, but also he had his head down and was going through the motions too often. Due to some sloppy play and some questionable officiating, the Magic were able to trim the lead to seven points going into the half.
The normal starting five started the third quarter very sloppy, with Al Jefferson missing a layup and then throwing a poor pass to Kidd-Gilchrist from the right block that went right to the defender. Hey but at least he's looking to pass! Per NBA.com's player tracking he had 22 passes in 30 minutes, not sure if that's a lot for him but I'll try to track that throughout the season.
After a few more possessions, Kidd-Gilchrist got the ball late in the shot clock and was isolated against I believe Maurice Harkless. Kidd-Gilchrist typically looks to move the ball when he gets it, really it never sticks on him. But this time he had to make something of the end of a possession. He drove right and was cut off, being forced to shoot. THEN HE HIT A PULL UP JUMPER IN THE GUY'S GRILL!! It was a thing of pure beauty. Seeing it live was great. He looks so much more confident on offense. Then, as if the Basketball Gods needed to restore balance to the world, the Magic went on a 7 to nothing point run to go up 64-63.
After a timeout by Clifford to try to calm the guys down, things were ugly for about a three minute stretch. The two highlights were a nice scoop layup by Stephenson and a beautiful text book jump shot by Cody Zeller (who went three of five from mid-range). Other than that, the Hornets weren't really able to slow down the Magic who built a five point lead going into the fourth quarter.
Oh the fourth quarter, also known as Jannero Pargo time. Due to a Kemba Walker suffering a knee bruise, which seems to be a minor injury according to all reliable twitter sources, coach Clifford was forced to play a little more of Brian Roberts and Jannero Pargo. Although Roberts couldn't get his shot down (a consistent theme for most of the Hornets "shooters" tonight), he was able to move the ball around and had six assists. However all of that was irrelevant because Pargo got Pargo-hot, a temperature only known to a few players in the league. You basically walk to the microwave, hit the "PARGO" button, and run for cover, because your microwave is about to explode. Pargo went six for ten in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 points. I mean check out this shot chart.
The Pargo show lasted the entire fourth quarter, as Clifford put Marvin Williams, Lance Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Al Jefferson back in; basically the starters plus Pargo to close the game. After a loose ball foul by Dewayne Dedmon put Al Jefferson on the free throw line, the Hornets were up five points with 2:37 left to play. An Elfrid Payton free throw and a Kyle O'Quinn mid range jumper later, the Hornets were up only two with 57 seconds remaining. At this point the Pargo fire was extinguished, so Clifford turned to the Professor Al Jefferson to try to put the Magic away. Down in the post, Jefferson delivered on a text book push shot to put the Hornets up four.
However, Elfird Payton basically ran the ball to the hoop uncontested on the next play to put the Magic just two points behind. The next time down Pargo tried to do a little too much and lost the ball out of bounds. Classic preseason, down to the wire action. The crowd was amped after seeing Pargo on fire and everyone was on their feet chanting "DE-FENSE" as Elfird Payton brought the ball up the court. Feeling the moment, Payton got a pretty good look at an 18 foot jump shot, which he missed. The rebound bounced right back to him and he went up for a little floater in the lane to tie the game. And then the unexpected happened, like it only does in the NBA: Al Jefferson threw that floater down like it was a stray fly.
Game, set, match. MKG pull-up jumpers and Al Jefferson blocked shots. It was that sort of game.
Afterwards a friend and I made our way down to the team store. I think it is safe to say that the Hornets re-branding is going as planned because the team store was packed.
So after a very successful preseason opening night for the Hornets, I was pretty happy with the basketball I saw, despite the occasional stretch of sloppy play. I was also ecstatic about how the team has handled the re-branding in addition to getting the win.
A few final thoughts:
- The energy of Williams, Zeller, Biyombo, and Kidd-Gilchrist really stood out.
- When you decide to take more 3-point shots, you're going to have nights like this (3/20 from long range).
- Al Jefferson was having to work hard against Nikola Vucevic and Dedmon; I think he should really incorporate a little verbal flop into his game because four free throw attempts were not enough considering how much contact he was drawing.
- Bismack Biyombo looked way better than he did in the first game and had a stretch where he was controlling the paint and being aggressive on offense; unfortunately in my opinion a few bad calls torpedoed his impact.
- Marvin Williams needs to start hitting his three point shots to justify that "stretch" four label and the 7 million dollar price tag as he's just 2 for 11 from 3-point range this preseason.
There's a ton more, but I'll let you guys point that out in the comments.