What can you say? The Chicago Bulls played a double overtime game the night before, showed up and played about 80 percent speed, and still beat a Hornets team that played pretty well for approximately 40 minutes. If the Hornets hadn't already lost nine straight, this would be just be a tough loss. However, this wasn't just another game. Charlotte should have had this one. They were coming off three full days of rest, facing a tired team, and still couldn't close it out. We're past the "is this a trend" question and on to the "why isn't anything changing" question.
There's no need to rehash in much detail what happened during the fourth quarter because you've heard this story before. The Hornets had a lead at one point. The Hornets had at least two defensive breakdowns. The Hornets offense was predictable and isolation oriented. The Hornets played hard, but lost the game. (Ed note-This is becoming more predictable than an Adam Sandler movie-Chris)
So if that's the story every fourth quarter and you've had three full days of rest, it might make sense to dominate the start of both halves. Well, the Hornets did the exact opposite. For some reason, coach Steve Clifford started out with the wrong defenders on Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. Gasol took early advantage of Cody Zeller down low by making easy layups and drawing fouls. A simple tactical error, which was fixed rather quickly, cost the Hornets early in the quarter.
Coming out of the locker room, trailing 45-50, the Hornets could have really used a strong run to put their stamp on the game. Instead they gave up two quick 3-pointers to find themselves down 11 points. Womp womp. At this point, the Hornets could have folded, maybe they should have, anything to avoid the inevitable heart ache. Impressively, they did not fold, finishing the third quarter on a tear.
The game really opened up for a few minutes in the latter half of that third quarter. Kemba Walker went berserk for a few minutes, which as fun as it was to watch, might have doomed this Hornets team down the stretch. Walker shook Nikola Mirotić out of his shoes before nailing a step back 3-pointer and also had a few incredible takes to the basket (he was 4-for-7 in the last six minutes of the third quarter). In short, he was on fire for a portion of the game. However, it was appropriate considering the lineup and the situation. Jefferson was out and it was Kemba's show.
Prior to the Kemba Experience, Walker played a very balanced game. At one point in the third quarter he was 4-for-8 and had done a great job of playing within the offense. He was even playing decent defense on Derrick Rose. However, in the fourth, he reverted to the shoot first and shoot early guard that always looks horrible in a loss. He was 1-for-5 in the quarter and went 7-for-18 for the game.
It wasn't all on Walker, but in the last eight minutes of the game the team had only two assists. TWO. Once again the Hornets got away from what seemed to be working: sharing the ball (all starters scored in double figures), running the pick and roll, and attacking the rim. Isolation sets, especially against match-ups that aren't favorable, have killed this team late in games. There were positive things to take away tonight, but at the end of the day it's the Hornets tenth straight loss and there's no way to sugar coat it.
- The Hornets limited offensive rebounds (Chicago had four), protected the ball (only five turnovers), got decent shots most of the night, didn't give up fast break points (Chicago had nine) and won the battle in the paint. Basically Charlotte did everything Clifford preaches for winning basketball. Yet they still lost.
- Cody Zeller seemingly dunked Pau Gasol into retirement. Unfortunately Gasol survived the dunk and made clutch buckets late.
- Lance Stephenson had one of his best games of the year. He continued to bring great passing (see the dish to Zeller above) and played decent defense for most of the night. He ended with 20 points on an efficient 9-for-18 shooting (two of those were late heaves), eight rebounds, and four assists. However he had four turnovers, none more costly than a questionable travel call late in the game that obviously annoyed him. He spent the next timeout talking to himself, the referee, and Walker while mimicking the move he pulled.
- The Hornets have the New York Knicks at home Friday night and then have four days off before a home game against the Boston Celtics. If the team can't go 2-0 here, it's full on Code RED for me.