Without Kemba Walker or Al Jefferson, scoring points was going to be difficult tonight for the Charlotte Hornets. That proved true of both teams, but it was the Hornets' defense that made the difference, earning them an 80-71 win over the Indiana Pacers.
Gerald Henderson led all scorers with 20 points on 6-19, but the key players tonight were Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo, who combined for 30 rebounds. MKG would come one point shy of a double-double, finishing with 9 points and 16 rebounds, while Biyombo had 14 rebounds, including seven offensive boards. Their defense, particularly in overtime, was the difference tonight for Charlotte.
Indiana was led by 19 points and eight rebounds from David West, who was hitting a lot of mid-range shots in the first half. He wasn't as active scoring in the second half however. Roy Hibbert finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds, and Donald Sloan added 13 points off the bench.
The game started out sluggish from an offensive standpoint and never improved. The Hornets only shot 30.7 percent from the field, while the Pacers shot 35.7. The Hornets did manage to out rebound the Pacers 58-56, a key stat given how well Indiana rebounds the ball. Tonight, Charlotte did a solid job on the boards, and forced 19 turnovers while only committing seven, and three of those came by Lance Stephenson in his first three minutes of action.
Oh, about Stephenson. He played dreadful at first, missing shots, and mishandling the ball in to go along with the three turnovers. After a Hornets timeout however, he settled in, scoring five straight points off a 3-pointer and drive to the hoop. He would score seven points in the first half, and finish with 13. The problem? He did it on 12 attempts. He didn't play a great game by any stretch, but he looked more comfortable on the court than he did against San Antonio. He showed flashes of good play, particularly his decision making in pick-and-roll situations, which has been pretty good all season.
Gary Neal also showed signs of life tonight. He finished with 9 points (albeit on 4-11 shooting), but hit a few shots in a row in the first half. He's still far from the scorer that was knocking down nearly 47 percent of his 3-pointers in November, but the Hornets needed any additional scoring they could get tonight.
The score was 40-37 at halftime, a low score but not a historically low one. Then the third quarter happened, as both teams combined for just 24 points. Poor shooting continued into the fourth, and the Pacers only managed to extend their lead to six.
The Hornets got back into the game on an MKG coast-to-coast and-1, followed by a Gerald Henderson banked runner. The Pacers led by one as the clock ran down, until Marvin Williams hit an open 3-pointer with 51 seconds remaining. The Pacers managed to tie the game thanks to free throws by Rodney Stuckey, and overtime was forced after Henderson missed a long-range two-pointer at the end of regulation.
Unlike the Hornets last overtime game against Milwaukee, the Hornets got out to an early led thanks to strong defense. MKG was a monster on that end in particular, as was Biyombo on the block. The Hornets only allowed three points in overtime, which came after C.J. Watson banked a 3-pointer with 29 seconds remaining.
Key tonight was having Kidd-Gilchrist play late in the game. Steve Clifford has been reluctant to play MKG late in games this season, but tonight showed how important he can be in close games, despite his drawbacks on offense. With the continued struggles of Stephenson and Neal, Kidd-Gilchrist is the best wing option for the Hornets late in games. Let's hope tonight's performance means more MKG to close out games.
With tonight's win, along with the Brooklyn Nets' loss to the Washington Wizards, the Hornets are now just one game back of eighth place for the final playoff spot. They will get a day off tomorrow, before hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night, who have just six wins on the season.