The best part of the night for the Charlotte Hornets came after Kemba Walker's game-winning layup as the clock expired.
After he was able to separate from a team-wide bear hug, Walker was interviewed by Hornets reporter Stephanie Ready. She asked him his thoughts on what just transpired. The first thing out of his mouth is good news for Hornets fans: "I'm just a little frustrated that we let those guys back in the game. That's been our problem throughout this season."
It's easy to just be relieved that the Hornets finally ended their losing streak and excited that it came in such thrilling fashion. However, the Hornets showed both their best and worst against the Knicks -- sure, they managed to pull it out tonight, but giving up a 20-point cushion against a non-Eastern Conference bottom dweller will end in defeat more often than not in the future. If the Hornets truly want to turn their season around, they cannot continue to just play well at times.
The good parts: the Hornets wings -- Gerald Henderson, Lance Stephenson, and Gary Neal -- shot the lights out tonight and the Hornets offense looked very good at times. Granted, the Knicks don't boast an incredible defense, but seeing actual ball movement along the perimeter and guys take and knock down shots was encouraging. There were still moments when guys passed up open shots or Knick defenders went under ball screens and the Hornets didn't punish them, but it was better tonight.
The Hornets bench really outplayed the Knicks', although Steve Clifford didn't get a chance to go back to them in the second half when the Knicks started making their comeback. Bismack Biyombo continues to play better and better, and the Hornets defense was very good when he was in. On the whole, the Hornets played great defense for the first three quarters (minus the last minute or two of the third). They looked like what everyone expected them to look like this season -- fast and athletic on the perimeter with the starters, and surrounding Biyombo with shooters in the second unit and letting him rebound and patrol the rim. The Hornets were blocking shots all over the place and slamming home alley-oops.
So what happened in the fourth quarter?
The Hornets stopped running actually offense sets and pick-and-rolls and reverted to perimeter players going one-on-one against Knicks defenders. When the Hornets do that, they become very easy to guard and the Knicks can just play the percentages and let Hornet players shoot mid-range shots (if you don't know about percentages of mid-range shots, they are...not optimal). And that's exactly what the Hornets settled for -- most fourth-quarter possessions were Kemba Walker or Gerald Henderson isolations. Thankfully Hendo hit most of his shots tonight, but that doesn't make their fourth-quarter process any better.
The Hornets should look at this tape and find a lot of useful things -- the first three quarters are a neon sign of how to play and the fourth is exactly the opposite. Ball movement opens everything up for them. The defense is scrambling and it even gives better looks to Al Jefferson in the post. When the ball sticks, everyone takes harder and more contested shots. Clifford has talked all season about the ball sticking, and the problem reared its ugly head yet again tonight. However, the Hornets showed that they don't have to play that way.
The Hornets have a bit of a break before their next game against the Celtics on Wednesday night. The schedule is starting to get a little easier -- although they'll be at the Grizzlies and at the Cavaliers in the next week -- but this is the time for Charlotte to turn things around and go on a mini-run to get their season back on track. This was nice...
...but the Hornets can't just continue to give up huge leads and expect to be a playoff team. The killer mentality will need come out eventually. But you got to start somewhere, and a win is as good a place as any.