Just how badly did the Hornets struggle to score? The Hornets shot 29 percent from the field, and the starters combined for only 30 points, outscoring leading scorer Russell Westbrook by just one point, who finished with 29 points in 25 minutes of play. Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson combined to shoot 4-20. The Hornets lead scorer was Brian Roberts, who finished with 16 points. Only one other player -- Marvin Williams -- scored at least 10 points for the Hornets.
The ball movement seen during the winning streak just wasn't there, and the Hornets uncharacteristically turned the ball over far too easily. The Hornets struggled to hit shots soon after tip-off, and the Thunder capitalized, never looking back. The Hornets only lead after Cody Zeller hit the first shot of the game to make it 2-0.
As pointed out in the preview, the Thunder are one of the NBA's best defensive teams, holding teams to 96.2 points a game. For the Hornets to be successful, Walker and Jefferson needed to continue scoring the ball well, as they had during the four game winning streak. Unfortunately, neither could knock down shots, thanks largely to strong defense by the Thunder. Jefferson's groin injury seemed to be bothering him more than usual, and when the game became out of reach, Clifford took him out to rest.
The best starter tonight was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who finished with nine points, five rebounds, and two steals. He was also 5-5 from the free throw line, which is encouraging considering he had been struggling from the line in recent games.
The bench mob tends to play better when Walker and Jefferson are scoring. Like most teams, when the star players are shooting well, it eases the pressure on the role players. Forced to cut the deficit after the starters couldn't, Charlotte's bench couldn't come up with points needed to bring Charlotte back. While the bench outscored the starters 45-30, most of those came in the fourth once the starters had been benched.
As alluded to, Westbrook lead the way for the Thunder. He had 13 points in the first quarter alone, leaving little chance for Walker to guard him effectively. Head coach Steve Clifford put Kidd-Gilchrist on Westbrook, which proved to work, as Westbrook was forced into contested shots. However, after MKG picked up his fourth foul in the 3rd quarter, Westbrook was set free again, and the game became permanently out of reach soon after.
For what's it worth, the MKG vs. Westbrook matchup was fun to watch. Both players wanted to get the better of the matchup, and MKG frustrated Westbrook on a couple of possessions. Starting Kidd-Gilchrist on Westbrook from the start wouldn't have changed the outcome of the game, but it could have possibly prevented Westbrook's hot start to the game.
The Thunder also got 13 points from Serge Ibaka, along with 14 rebounds (four offensive!). He was also 3-7 from the 3-point line, which helped stretch the lead in the first half. Charlotte native Anthony Morrow added 11 points off the bench, and was 3-6 from the 3-point line.
Tonight was bad, but isn't a crushing loss if you're still thinking about the Hornets playoff chances. Beating Oklahoma City on the road was never going to be easy; the Hornets haven't beat the Thunder on the road since they moved to OKC, and even without Kevin Durant, winning tonight was going to be difficult. However, it is important the Hornets rebound tomorrow night at home against Orlando. The Magic are a division opponent and above them in the standings, but are also a winnable game, especially at home.
- When PJ Hairston started firing up 3-pointers early in the season, it was fun and exciting. Now, it's become tiring. It would be one thing if he was shooting well, but Hairston currently has a field goal percentage of 31.9 percent, and a 3-point percentage of 31.1. Tonight he was 2-9, and most of the shots were contested with time remaining on the shot clock. His confidence is great, but he needs to be reigned in a bit. Knocking down a 3-pointer or two every game can be a dagger if the shots come in the right opportunities, but Hairston isn't helping the team when he's chucking up shots any chance he gets.
- Gary Neal seems to have left his shooting form back in Charlotte. Neal was 1-8 tonight, and 1-17 in the last two games. Whether you like him or not, Neal provides needed scoring off the bench. When he isn't shooting well, it becomes difficult for the Hornets to either maintain a lead, or cut a deficit.
- Noah Vonleh played a little over seven minutes tonight in the 4th quarter. His stat line for the night: 2 points, 3 rebounds, and one missed 3-pointer. He scored off a post up, turnaround, fadeaway jump shot, which he has scored with before this season. It's a nice move, and it's nice to see Vonleh has at least one strong move to create space for a shot. Still, Vonleh doesn't look ready to play meaningful minutes. This isn't a slight, last season Zeller wasn't ready for meaningful minutes either, particularly the first half of the season. He needed a year of development, and Vonleh needs it as well. Maybe the Hornets can send him down to the NBA Development League.