In their final game of 2014, the Charlotte Hornets fell to the Houston Rockets on the road, 102-83. Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led the Hornets with 16 points a piece, while Kemba Walker added 12 points and five assists.
Charlotte played well in the first half. They hit their open shots and forced turnovers. If not for two 3-pointers by Houston to end the half, the Hornets would have gone into halftime with the lead, but instead went behind 45-47. In the second half, the Rockets quickly took over, going up by 10 points in 90 seconds. Just like that, a game that looked like it was in reach for Charlotte quickly slipped away. While the Hornets managed to cut the lead to five at one point, the Rockets forced a lot of turnovers (18 in total), which prevented the Hornets from cutting into their lead.
This was Charlotte's first game since Al Jefferson was sidelined with a groin injury, and a few things could be taken away from it. For one, there was a lot more ball movement, particularly in the first half, an obvious side effect of not dumping the ball to Jefferson in the paint. Kidd-Gilchrist seemed to benefit a lot from this, as he was given the green light to take outside shots and drive to the hoop. He shot 6-15 and led all Hornets in shot attempts. He looked more dangerous on the offensive end, so it'll be interesting to see if he continues to get more shots up with Jefferson out.
The downside to Jefferson's absence was undoubtedly the lack of a go-to scorer. Walker would be next in line with Jefferson out, except the Rockets did a good job of taking Walker out of the game by trapping him off of ball screens. For all Walker can do on offense, he needs another go-to scorer on the court, otherwise he is singled out by defenses. Without Jefferson to score in the post, the Hornets had no post scorer at all and turned to taking outside shots, which proved ineffective as they shot 3-18 from beyond the arc.
Houston's defense picked up in the second half, as did the play of James Harden. Harden was in MVP mode, and finished with 36 points on 12-19 shooting and 8-11 from three. He was, at times, unguardable tonight, and when it looked as if the Hornets would only lose by around 12 points, Harden extended the lead to 20 by himself. The Rockets made 17 3-pointers as a team, attempting a whopping 43, which is nine more than their season average of roughly 34 a game (which, unsurprisingly, leads the league).
Charlotte ends 2014 at 10-23. While next month's schedule will be their easiest of the season, it is likely too late for the Hornets to make a playoff run. Injuries, players not fitting with each other, and an overall lack of execution at times has doomed the team too often this season. Jefferson's absence will make it difficult for the Hornets on most nights, though a storyline to follow early in 2015 is how Lance Stephenson plays once he returns, which could be soon. Was a lingering injury to blame for his poor start, or is Stephenson simply not right for this team? We'll find out sooner than later, but until then, thank you for your support of At The Hive, and have a happy New Year.