The Hornets lose another close game, this time to the Knicks 96-93. The script was much of the same -- the Hornets dug themselves a hole in the first quarter with poor shot selection, and just as poor defense. This led to them being down as much as 15 points, late in the second quarter. Then the Hornets went on a run, only to be down two at halftime.
Things would have been much worse in the first if not for the heroics of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, whom chased down and prevented three fast break layups in the first quarter. For much of the first quarter MKG was keeping the Hornets in it, playing at a higher level than any player on the floor. Then this happened:
Amazingly, Kidd-Gilchrist would remain in the game, managing to hit a jump shot in Carmelo Anthony's face before being subbed out a few minutes later. After being looked over by the team doctor, MKG left the arena to get a CT scan. Fortunately, he only has a rib contusion, and is listed as day-to-day.
MKG was amazing tonight, and hopefully this injury doesn't sideline him for long. At times this season he has been the best player on the floor for the Hornets, and I would hate for his breakout year to be hampered by injury.
Things got worse with MKG's absence, until late in the second quarter, when the Hornets started getting the ball to Al Jefferson in the paint. Jefferson played like his dominant self in both the second, and third quarters, but he did struggle from the free throw line, shooting 3-8. He would finish with 21 points and four rebounds.
Gary Neal also helped the Hornets to pull within two points at halftime, scoring 12 points and making 3-3 from the 3-point line in the first half. Neal would finish with 17 points, and was used once again late in the 4th.
The big question however, is how did Lance Stephenson play? Well it started poorly again for Stephenson, he wasn't asserting himself on offense, and his defense wasn't very good either. He started to find a groove at the end of the first half, and that would carry over into the third quarter. It was here he had his best quarter as a Hornet, in which he scored 12 points, and looked much more like the player Charlotte fans were hoping for. Stephenson would finish the game with a near triple double of 14 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.
Charlotte fans need to be patient with Stephenson. Fitting a dynamic player like him into Charlotte's offense was never going to be easy, and the growing pains are obvious. Despite his struggles scoring the ball, Stephenson is showing he can be effective in other ways. At halftime alone he had five assists and three steals, and now twice this season has flirted with a triple double. Once the scoring comes, the Hornets should have an easier time on offense.
The fourth quarter was back and forth, and featured nine lead changes. The Hornets were up 93-90 with 2:48 to go, but the Knicks tied it up after Iman Shumpert knocked down a 3-pointer. Carmelo Anthony then made a tough 15-foot jumper to go up by two, and after the Hornets were called for a horrible five second count (it was closer to four), they got a defensive stop, and had the ball with 16.6 seconds left. Kemba would create a shot for himself, but it wouldn't fall, and the Hornets were forced to foul with 0.8 seconds to go, which meant the game was all but over.
The Hornets are now 1-2, but it is still far too early to be pressing the panic button. Charlotte needs to be more effective in the first quarter, on both ends, and stop giving opposing teams large leads. The offense still has a ways to go, but this was to be expected to an extent. Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams are different players than Gerald Henderson and Josh McRoberts, the two who occupied their starting spots last season. Incorporating these two into the offense was always going to take time, though it would have been ideal for the kinks to have been worked out in preseason.
Have faith though Charlotte fans. It took time for the team to adapt to Big Al's play style, but by February he was unstoppable. Hopefully we are saying the same of Lance and company this February.
Next Up: The Hornets travel to New Orleans on Tuesday to take on the Pelicans, who are (1-1) at this point. Look out for Anthony Davis, who has been All-World so far this season.