The winning streak is over. Dead at the hands of the defending champions. The Charlotte Hornets gave all they could against the San Antonio Spurs, using a revitalized defense in the second half to chip away at a 16-point deficit and make it a game late. But, as many have probably gotten used to at this point, the team struggled to execute late, at it cost them, allowing the Spurs to pull away for a 98-93 victory.
Kemba Walker nearly had another 30-point game, finishing with 28 points to go with three assists and three blocks. But Cold Kemba returned when the team most needed Hot Kemba to continue his play. For those who don't know, Hot Kemba is the ridiculous Kemba Walker who makes insane shots like this and this and this in the clutch and earns NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Cold Kemba is the Kemba Walker that continues to take those ridiculous shots near the end of games, but the shots don't fall. So he continues to shoot. And shoot. And shoot. But the shots never seem to fall, no matter how hard he tries. The argument could be made that Walker shot the team out of the game tonight, while I'd probably agree with you. I'd also forgive Walker given all that he has accomplished recently.
It wasn't all on Walker, either. Gerald Henderson, another player who was so key during the team's recent winning streak, had his first subpar game in a few weeks. Against the Spurs stingy D, he finished with 11 points (none after the 7:13 mark of the third quarter), four boards, two assists, a block, a steal, a couple of turnovers and multiple defensive lapses that led to San Antonio buckets. Henderson, along with many other Hornets, spent a good amount of the night looking for foul calls from officials. But you can never assume a foul call will ever be given, especially against a team like the San Antonio Spurs.
The team shot 38.4 percent from the floor, missed 12 free throws and was sloppy late in the game. You do not beat a team as good as San Antonio playing that well. It also doesn't help when Manu Ginobili goes vintage Manu and finishes the game with 27 points in 24 minutes off the bench while shooting 10-of-14 from the floor. Ginobili had an answer for seemingly every Hornets run. When the Hornets had finally cut a 16-point halftime deficit to just a single point with 4:27 remaining in the game, it was Ginobili who went on a 5-0 run to shush Time Warner Cable Arena. The Hornets never got that close again.
There's also the question of Clifford's rotations. He seems to leave whichever unit is on the floor one timeout too long, whether it is the starters or the second unit, and the team really could've used Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's defense against Ginobili late (though hindsight is 20/20).
Oh, and we haven't even gotten to Lance Stephenson yet.
The guard made his return to the hardwood after missing a month with a groin injury and picked up right where he left off. He played 18 minutes, shot 3-of-8 from the floor and 2-of-6 from the charity stripe, and had eight points, two assists and one rebound. He looked like his old self — attacking the rim aggressively and handling the ball excessively, both to good and bad (mostly bad though) results. It'll be interesting to see how long he remains on the bench for and if Clifford ever returns him to the starting lineup. Stephenson definitely looked more comfortable playing with the second unit than playing with Walker on the court, but that is probably news to no one.
OK, enough negatives. Let's talk a few positives, shall we?
First, Bismack Biyombo. His performance tonight is what the team's front office imagined when they drafted him. Biyombo had his second-straight double-double, totaling 12 points, 15 rebounds (seven offensive) and five blocks — the majority of which came right after halftime, when Biyombo almost singlehandedly willed Charlotte back into the game. He looked like a legitimate center tonight. He played shutdown D on future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan every time he was asked to, had a classic Al Jefferson turnaround hook shot and had the best three play stretch of his career in the second quarter. First, he tipped in a Kemba Walker free throw miss. On the ensuing possession, he had a huge block, which led to a fast break opportunity. Walker would miss the shot, but Biyombo grabbed the offensive rebound over three Spurs players and went back up for the layup and the foul.
I've long believed that Biyombo could be good on offense when he stopped thinking so much and just played, and tonight we saw the first signs of it. I know I'm supposed to be unbiased, but I can't help but feel an immense sense of pride when I see Biyombo do well.
Biyombo's play even earned him praise of Gregg Popovich.
There's no reason for the Hornets to hang their heads. They played the defending champions to the wire and gave them all they could handle. The second half Hornets looked smooth and comfortable on offensive (for the most part) and even better on defense. The team really seems to be taking steps in the right direction.
The Spurs were just the better team tonight. Bottom line, end of story.
If nothing else, we got this hilarious gif of P.J. Hairston from the game.