The Charlotte Hornets are apparently really good at comebacks that fall just short, because that's two straight games now they needed one. In tonight's game against the Atlanta Hawks the Hornets definitely played better. The offense didn't stagnate at all, and rarely was Charlotte out of the game. However, their defense once again came up short in transition, and this became their undoing.
The game started off well with Nicolas Batum stealing the tip off and getting an immediate and-1. A great sign of energy from a player that looked a little unsure of how to assert himself in Wednesday night's opener. In fact, Charlotte as a whole seemed to have a better understanding of where every one needed to be. Passes were crisp, screens were set in perfect spots, and players were in perfect positioning off ball. If they play like this throughout the entire season then there's no reason to believe that things won't eventually come together for them on that end.
However, Atlanta didn't win 60 games last year for nothing. They quickly composed themselves and found ways to counter Charlotte. Early in the second quarter, the Hawks started running as much as possible when the situation presented itself. They created open looks, and consistently executed, in order to get easy buckets. Kent Bazemore benefited from this and ended up with four 3-pointers on the night.
Despite all that, Charlotte had managed to keep the game close for most of the first half, and third quarter. Then things began to unravel late in the third. Open shots stopped falling for the Hornets and Atlanta just ran all over them. Charlotte has been very bad at transition defense these last two games, and the Hawks exploited that on the way to a double digit lead. This resulted in a funny situation where the Hornets needed to make baskets to stop letting the Hawks get out in transition, but they couldn't get any stops to make the offense easier.
Even so, the Hornets didn't quit and managed to make a late fourth quarter run thanks to some huge 3-point shooting from Jeremy Lin and Marvin Williams. Without those two this game likely would have ended with the Hawks shooting free throws, or dribbling out the clock. Instead, the Hornets had a chance to send it into overtime with 2.8 to go. Kemba Walker managed to create a good look for himself, but the shot was too strong, and yet another Hornets comeback came up short.
Charlotte being involved in games late is a good thing. Particularly, because a lot of the same players have been involved in these comeback attempts. Marvin Williams in particular has been huge for the Hornets over the last two games, and if he keeps up this level of play that would be a huge boost for a Hornets team looking for consistency at the moment.
The Hornets have also had two straight solid games from Jeremy Lin off the bench. There was some concern that his play over the preseason wouldn't translate over to the regular season, and even though he didn't shoot well tonight, his play making ability has been invaluable to the second unit.
Charlotte has a rematch against Atlanta on Sunday, and while there's probably an expectation they'll lose that one as well, tonight did give some hope in Charlotte finally putting together a complete game in the rematch.