Before getting to the what, the where, the why, or even the score, first we have to check out this shot by Kemba Walker:
He took that shot one-handed from his waist, while being fouled. Give me a break. And it wasn't just a random circus shot, it was the game-winner. If that's not enough for you, right before that play he made a step-back jumper over the unfair length of Anthony Davis to put the Hornets up two. Basically two ridiculous game winners in a 23-second span. As coach Steve Clifford said after the game, Kemba "has courage."
Not only did Walker come through in the clutch, but he scored 31 points and has now scored 30 points in three straight games (all Charlotte victories). Just as early as this morning, it seemed there were too many good guards in the Eastern Conference for Walker to make a case for the All-Star game, but it's time for the Kemba Walker #NBABallot campaign.
Like all basketball games, this one had things happen before the last minute and in the end the Charlotte Hornets (13-24) beat the New Orleans Pelicans (17-18) by a score of 98-94. Lost in the late-game heroics of Walker was a truly incredible game by Anthony Davis (32 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks). It was incredible because it was just so workman-like. He scored within the offense, owned the glass, and wreaked havoc on defense all while carrying a lunch pail. Make no mistake, if you weren't already aware, Anthony Davis is one of the best players in the entire league. Queue up the sad Richard Cho face.
Other than the performances of Walker and Davis, there were a few reasons this was a close, hard-fought game.
Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Last season these two paired up to form one of the best defensive duos in the league. Recently, they've been back to their old tricks and tonight was a great exhibition of how important they are to Charlotte's success. When guarded by Kidd-Gilchrist, Tyreke Evans was just down right ineffective, and for the entire game he had just 10 points and five urnovers. He couldn't create separation in any aspect of the game and was especially bottled up in the pick-and-roll. Also, the Pelicans kept trying it because Holiday had success running the same action.
In addition to the defense, both wings performed great offensively: Henderson with 16 points, seven assists, and eight rebounds and Kidd-Gilchrist with 13 points, three assists, and 12 rebounds. In particular, Henderson was again a key secondary ball-handler. He was taking the ball up the floor and getting easy buckets early, creating for Cody Zeller (eight points), and getting to his spots. On a night when Walker needed every ounce of energy late, it was again Henderson who helped run the new non-Al Jefferson centric offense.
The late first quarter lapse
After an evenly matched, sloppy start to the game, the first quarter looked as if it would end close to a tie. Unfortunately, the Pelicans ended it on an 8-2 run. The play in those last few minutes were some of the most uninterested since the loss to Brooklyn almost a month back. This tweet pretty much summed it up:
Defense taking a nap at the end of the quarter. Neal out there walking through like it's a Y pickup game.— Hive Talk Live (@HiveTalkLive) January 8, 2015
It has to be noted though, that Clifford didn't repeat this mistake. Kidd-Gilchrist played the entire third quarter and started the fourth. From halftime to the end of the game, one of the starting wings was on the floor at all times. Also, the Hornets are now 5-1 when Kidd-Gilchrist plays over 30 minutes this season.
The zone of the Pelicans
It felt like New Orleans abandoned their defensive zone scheme too soon. Against the current starters, the zone can cause serious problems. The way the ball has been moving lately, they might have figured out how to exploit it eventually (like they're currently doing against man defenses). However, the Pelicans had a lot of success during a key stretch in the second quarter when the Hornets were starting to make a run.
Rejoice in the win while you can, because it was a bright spot from this season that is trying it's best to resemble the darkest timeline. The Hornets travel to Toronto to take on the Raptors in a tough back-to-back. For now, let's leave it with this: