Nicolas Batum needed the performance he put on Sunday night in Time Warner Cable Arena. Not because of recent poor play or some kind of vendetta against his former team. The Frenchman was understandably full of emotion just two days after his homeland was attacked by terrorists. With the French national anthem over the speakers prior to Sunday's 5:00 p.m. tip, Batum pounded his chest several times and pointed up to the sky.
The emotion carried him to a season-high 33 points, just two points shy of his career-high. While the news from France was breaking on Friday, the newly acquired Hornet played in Friday's road contest in Chicago. In that game, Batum set his previous season-high of 28 points.
Against his old teammates, the eighth year wing got started quickly, hitting two early three-pointers. He showed great command of the offense, putting his current teammates in the positions they needed to be in. The Hornets were making a concerted effort to get Al Jefferson the ball closer to the basket. Jefferson and Kemba Walker had struggled offensively in the last week but their slump ended today.
Walker and Jefferson started the game a combined 8-of-8 from the field with 17 points. Charlotte would hit six three-pointers on their way to a season-high 35 first quarter points.
The bench mob of Jeremy Lamb and Jeremy Lin entered late in the first quarter but quickly found each other for a pair of baskets to end the first period and start the second. First, Lamb dribbled to his left, penetrating the defense then kicked it to the left corner for a three that Lin swished. With 7:31 remaining in the first half, Lin stood at the top of the key and found a streaking Lamb for an alley-oop, easily securing the play of the game.
While the bench did their work, Batum and Jefferson kept pace with Charlotte's reserves. The two scored seven points in the final minute of the first half and both entered the locker room with 20 points apiece. The Hornets would hold a 71-45 at halftime - the most points they had scored at halftime all year.
Charlotte's offense came back to earth during the second half, thanks to uncharacteristic turnovers. The Hornets turned the ball over just one time in the first half but they coughed it up on three consecutive possessions in the third quarter. Yet, Charlotte still held a 23-point lead entering the final quarter of play.
Brian Roberts began the fourth quarter with three other reserves, Lin, Cody Zeller, Spencer Hawes, plus starting power forward Marvin Williams. The offense rolled to a complete stop and the defense was even worse as this unit tried to protect Charlotte's lead. Quick and easy baskets from the Trail Blazers helped trickle the Hornets' lead down from 16. Just like that it seemed the lead was sunk to single digits.
Steve Clifford substituted Batum and Walker into the game as Lamb and Jefferson followed just a few minutes later. Portland hit a pair of free throws to reduce Charlotte's lead to seven. The offense had been revived by the starters but the defense remained an issue. The new offensive punch, including contested, but made jumpers from Batum and Jefferson, and a group of free throws were enough to conquer Portland's threat, 106-94.
Batum's 31 points and Jefferson's 29 make it the first time this season that the Hornets have two players with 20+ points in the same game. Batum's 30 plus point effort was his first such game since 2012.
The Hornets are now back to .500 with seven of their next eight games at home, but first, they head to Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Knicks Tuesday night.