There isn't an easy way to explain how the Charlotte Hornets managed to start the game down 21-0 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Hornets had started poorly the previous two games, so it wasn't surprising to see them start slowly again, but allowing 21 straight points — and not scoring until six and a half minutes into the game — goes beyond any kind of conventional sense, even for the Hornets. Ultimately, the first quarter tonight is another moment that can be added to the long list of things that have made the 2014-15 Hornets such a disappointment. Down 21-0, the only thing left to do as a fan is to shrug, laugh, and hope it gets better. While it would get better, the Hornets still lost 97-88, and have now lost three in a row.
By the end of the first quarter, the Hornets trailed 34-17. Kemba Walker had scored 9 straight points for the Hornets, and the score line was no longer reflective of what it had been just minutes before. In the second quarter, the Hornets second unit stepped up, and started a 23-9 Hornets run that pulled the team within three points with 3:56 left in the second quarter. At that point, a bit of unrest had grown in Cleveland. The murmur from Cavalier fans evoked a sense of disbelief, and the Hornets had momentum riding on their side. Lance Stephenson was fouled going to the hoop with 3:25 left in the second, and could have cut the deficit to one by converting both free throws. Instead, he missed both, and the Cavaliers would finish the quarter on an 11-5 run to lead 54-43 at the half.
Special mention goes to Bismack Biyombo for his play in the second quarter. Biyombo had two points, four rebounds, and four blocks in the quarter, and was wrecking havoc on Cleveland's shots at the rim. It was one of Biyombo's best games of the season; unfortunately it will get lost in all the noise surrounding the team's worsening record and growing uncertainty. He also was only incorrectly credited for a 3-pointer made by Brian Roberts, which has to go down as the best score sheet mistakes of all time.
Down only nine at halftime, the Hornets jumped out to a quick 5-0 in the third quarter. At one point early in the quarter, they had cut the Cavaliers' lead to only two points, but that would be as close as they would come. The Cavaliers would bring the lead back out to 11, and Charlotte could only cut into the lead in small bits the rest of the game.
Walker would finish with 24 points (11-20 shooting), five assists, and five rebounds. His effort was superb tonight, and it's unlikely the Hornets climb back into the game without his nine straight points late in the first quarter.
Al Jefferson finished with 14 points (7-13 shooting), and eight rebounds. One reason the Hornets dug the 21-0 hole was due to not getting Jefferson the ball in the post. His first three shots were jump shots — a shot that is more effective when Jefferson is in a rhythm. Cleveland did a good job of denying Jefferson any easy shots, but Charlotte made it easier for them by not even looking into the post, and settling for mid-range jump shots. The Hornets did a better job in the second half of getting Jefferson the ball, the game's up and down pace made post-up opportunities hard to come by.
Cleveland was led by LeBron James, who finished with 27 points, 13 assists, and seven rebounds. Kevin Love had a strong game as well, scoring 22 points, including 4-9 from three, along with 18 rebounds, five assists, and four steals.
While the Cavaliers looked as if they might squander the lead in the second quarter, and once in the third, by the start of the fourth quarter they had firm control over the game. When the Hornets failed to make a run against the Cavaliers second unit in the fourth quarter, it was going to be difficult to come back against a LeBron James team. The Hornets did a solid job guarding him at times, and a little credit must be given to Gerald Henderson, who managed not to be dominated despite the size difference, and even forced James to turn it over a couple of times.
Charlotte falls to 6-18 with this loss. The schedule gets slightly easier after Wednesday's game against Phoenix, with games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz on Friday and Saturday. One would like to believe the Hornets could pick up a couple of wins this week, but at this point it's difficult to know if even that is wishful thinking.