There are games that become so ridiculous they can only end in an absurd way. That was the case Friday night, as the Charlotte Hornets defeated the Atlanta Hawks 122-119 in double overtime after Lance Stephenson banked a 3-pointer from well beyond the 3-point arc.
But let's rewind. Tonight's game had 63 total fouls, and there were 40 combined turnovers. There was sloppy play and questionable foul calls all night, and yet despite that, both teams played competitive, fun basketball, and were unwilling to concede.
The Hornets started the game off poorly, and were down 11-2 early. They were down 29-22 at the end of the first quarter, and would go back and forth with Atlanta all night, more than once fighting back to take the lead only to lose it again.
Charlotte made a late run to force overtime, and Atlanta would come back from six points down to force double overtime.
With 2.5 seconds to go, the Hawks had the ball ready to inbound on their half of the court. Then, Kyle Korver was called for a questionable illegal screen, which gave the Hornets the ball with a chance to win it. Hornets fans know what happened next:
Stephenson has taken criticism this season. Before this shot, he hadn't made a 3-pointer, and while it was fun and exciting, it also wasn't a good shot attempt. Stephenson, however, plays on instincts more than most, and maybe his instincts told him to launch a 33-footer.
It wasn't a good shot, but it doesn't matter, the Hornets are now 3-3, and more importantly, they are 2-0 in the division. This shouldn't be overlooked. Charlotte finished 6-10 in the division last season. They started 0-6, and didn't get their first division win until January 17th against Orlando. Starting 2-0 in the division is significant considering the Southeast division title race is wide open. There are four potential playoff teams in the division, and playoff seeds could come down to division records and head-to-head match-ups.
Tonight's win, along with Wednesday's win over Miami are signs that Charlotte is taking steps forward. Miami had beaten Charlotte 16 straight times before Wednesday's game, and Atlanta took three of four from them last season. The Hornets have trumped both of them early in the season, and that could have larger ramifications later on.
Al Jefferson had his best game of the season tonight. Finishing with 34 points (on 15-24 shooting), and nine boards, Jefferson had his way on the block most of the night. His defense at times was solid as well.
Gary Neal had 23 points off the bench. He was 3-5 from behind the arc, and 8-9 from the free throw line. Once again, Clifford went with Neal in the fourth quarter.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returned after missing two games, scoring 10 points on 4-6 shooting (two made jumpshots!), and four rebounds in 24 minutes. Clifford said pre-game MKG felt "sore," but he didn't show it, battling for rebounds and playing strong defense as he always does.
Cody Zeller registered his fourth good game in a row, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds, and two monster blocks on Jeff Teague. He played 35 minutes tonight, and Clifford went to him in the fourth quarter and in overtime. Zeller's sophomore season has been fantastic. He's shooting 69.2 percent at the rim this season, and 40 percent from 16 feet and beyond. His defense has been strong as well, though as Clifford mentioned in preseason, he must work on limiting the amount of fouls he commits. Tonight he had five, and I counted at least two that could have been avoided.
The star tonight however was Stephenson. Scoring came easier and early for him, and his four turnovers were forgiven with the game winner. Stephenson would finish with 17 points on 7-15 shooting, along with 13 rebounds and four assists.
Next up, the Hornets travel to Los Angeles to take on the winless Lakers. Sunday's game marks the first of a four game West Coast road trip, with a game Tuesday against Portland, and a back-to-back against Phoenix and Golden State on Friday and Saturday.
- Gerald Henderson was a DNP - Coach's Decision tonight. P.J. Hairston played over him, and while he struggled to find his shot, he did register a four-point play after he was fouled taking a 3-pointer from the corner.
- Brian Roberts had zero points on 0-4 shooting in 15 minutes tonight, but did register five assists and only one turnover. His shot selection was decent, but like Stephenson, he is struggling to adjust to his role in Charlotte.