In their first game since last Friday, the Charlotte Hornets picked up their second straight victory, beating the Boston Celtics 96-87. The Hornets were led by 23 points and 14 rebounds from Al Jefferson, who scored 11 in the fourth quarter alone to help seal the victory. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returned to the lineup after missing 12 games, and finished with 9 points and six rebounds in just 19 minutes.
The Celtics were led by 16 points a piece from Jeff Green and Marcus Thornton, along with a quiet triple-double from Rajon Rondo, who finished with 12 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds. Tyler Zeller got the better of his younger brother, finishing with 13 points and eight rebounds, while Cody Zeller finished with 9 points and only two rebounds.
Charlotte got off to a solid start, and led 22-16 after the first quarter. However, poor shooting in the second quarter allowed the Celtics back into the game, and they led 45-40 at halftime.
The game changed in the third, as the Hornets constantly attacked the rim, scored in the paint, and drew fouls. While they only shot 42 percent from the field, the Hornets finished with 46 points in the paint, and were 23 of 29 from the free throw line.
In the third, Lance Stephenson, Kemba Walker, and MKG played to their strengths of driving to the hoop and penetrating rather than settling for jump shots. At one point in the third, Stephenson did this to Evan Turner, which was just unfair:
Kemba Walker was just 5 of 14 from the field, but went 7 of 8 from the free throw line, and finished with 18 points, along with seven assists. Stephenson finished with 13 points on 6 of 14 shooting to go with four assists and four rebounds.
It cannot be emphasized enough how much the Hornets should continue to attack the rim. The Hornets best backcourt players — Walker, Stephenson, and MKG, (and let's throw Gerald Henderson into this) — are much more effective on offense when they get to the rim rather than settling for jump shots, and it showed tonight. Attacking the rim and scoring opens up opportunities for others, and creates open outside shot opportunities, as both Henderson and Marvin Williams were found for open 3-pointers on crucial possessions the second half. Scoring at the rim will be more difficult against teams that defend it better, but points in the paint should be a focus for the team, rather than relying on outside shooting.
MKG's return shouldn't be overlooked, either. He impacts the game on both ends, and looks to take high percentage shots evident in the one jump shot he took tonight. His return was desperately needed, and if they want any shot of getting back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, staying healthy is a must.
The Hornets got away from attacking the rim in the early part of the fourth due to the makeup of the second unit. With Gary Neal, Brian Roberts, and Williams in the same lineup, lots of outside shots went up. When Neal is on (and he is more often than not) the outside shooting from the second unit is beneficial. However, Neal shot just 1 of 9 tonight, and the second unit's reliance on outside shooting almost let the Celtics back in it (three open jump shots from Marcus Thornton didn't help, either).
However, when the starters came back in midway through the fourth, the defense tightened up and Jefferson owned the the quarter, scoring 11 points in the fourth.
Unlike Friday against the Knicks, there would be no blown lead, and no game winner needed. The Hornets took control in the fourth, held the lead, and looked comfortable doing so. They have now won two straight, but Friday's game against Memphis will be tough outing. The Grizzles are currently second in the West, and have one of the best interior defenses in the league. Still, the Hornets are starting to play more like they were expected to.