The first quarter was all offense from both teams, with the teams tied at 33 after 12 minutes. There was a scare early on, when Kemba Walker landed awkwardly driving to the basket. He was on the floor for several minutes before walking to the locker room under his own power. It looked bad, but he was eventually diagnosed with a left heel contusion, and returned later in the half. In his place, Jeremy Lin stepped in, scoring eight points and four assists in the first half. Lin had a strong game overall, finishing with 18 points, eight rebounds, and five assists, shooting six for eight from the field.
Unfortunately, Jeremy Lamb appeared to sprain his ankle towards the end of the first quarter, and was taken to the locker room. He would not return.
Head coach Steve Clifford went with a young lineup for parts of the 2nd quarter, with P.J. Hairston, Troy Daniels, and Frank Kaminsky playing together along with Spencer Hawes and Walker. Hairston was a bright spot, going three for four in the first half for eight points. It was a positive half for Hairston, who missed the last three games due to injury. He would finish with 11 points on four of five shooting.
Unlike in previous games, the Bulls got to the free throw line more than the Hornets in the first half, but Charlotte would end up attempting more by the end of the game (32 to 24). The Bulls did manage to out-rebound the Hornets 56 to 45, but key offensive rebounds late in the fourth quarter gave the Hornets second chance opportunities that they capitalized on.
After returning to the game, Walker showed no signs that his bruised heel was affecting him. He finished with a game high 22 points on 8-for-16, and made key baskets late in the game. Nicolas Batum added 14 points and five rebounds, but only shot one of six attempts from the 3-point line.
The Hornets trailed by one at halftime. The game would remain close for most of the second half, though the Bulls did go on a couple of runs at various points in the 3rd quarter. The Hornets managed to close the gap both times however, and when the Bulls offense were unable to convert late in the game, the Hornets managed to pull away.
Aside from Walker and Batum, the other three Hornets starters -- Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller, and Al Jefferson -- had mostly quiet games. Jefferson had an off night shooting, finishing with nine points on just three of nine shooting. Again though, the Hornets managed to win a game without their best offensive scorer playing well. Zeller had his worst game offensively this preseason. He failed to make a field goal, and finished with just one point in 20 minutes. Williams finished with only eight points, but did manage to knock down a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.
The rotation seems to be coming more and more together. Aside from Zeller, the starters all played close or over 30 minutes, and Clifford used a lineup of Walker, Lin, Batum, Williams, and Jefferson late in the game. While the likes of Zeller, Lamb, and Hairston are in line for a starting spot, don't be surprised to see a lineup featuring Lin and Williams late in the game. Lin and Walker have shown thus far they can play together in the same backcourt, which is very encouraging.
While the Hornets managed to hold on for the win tonight, multiple possessions looked a little stagnant compared to games past in preseason. The Walker hero-ball of last year showed itself briefly, and Batum was not involved in many of possessions. Habits are hard to break, but getting the ball into other players hands, particularly with Batum and Lin, should generate better shot opportunities late in the game. Walker relied on hero-ball often last season because he had no other choice -- this season he doesn't have to.
Tonight's game was about how you'd expect a Hornets-Bulls game to go -- very defensive. After a first quarter where both teams came out playing very well on offense, the scoring slowed down the rest of the game, and both teams looked much like they did last season. It wasn't the prettiest game, but the Hornets won once again, and remain unbeaten, which makes the upcoming regular season increasingly optimistic.