Things were going well for the Charlotte Hornets as they entered Tuesday night's game against the New York Knicks. Acquired star Nicolaus Batum had given the organization two outstanding performances, which earned him Eastern Conference player of the week. The team had won five of their last seven games after an 0-3 start to get to .500.
Tuesday they delivered one of their worst performances of the early schedule. As head coach Steve Clifford noted after the game, his team just didn't bring it, they didn't have it tonight, maybe for the first time all season.
Rookie Kristaps Porzingis tallied 29 points and 11 rebounds while Carmelo Anthony contributed 18 points and 11 rebounds. Batum was 1-of-9 from field for just four points as the Hornets lost 102-94 in Madison Square Garden.
P.J. Hairston was out with an injury so Charlotte slotted Marvin Williams at small forward and started Cody Zeller at the four. Zeller made his presence known early, hustling for loose balls, running the floor, doing the little things on both ends. He was a part of several winning plays early on but he picked up two quick fouls that put him on the bench for most of the first half.
First-round pick Frank Kaminsky entered for Zeller as the Knicks held an early lead. Charlotte was getting handled on the glass early on, a disturbing trend this season. It may be another side-effect from the absence of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. New York was able to pull down five offensive rebounds for eight second chance points in the first quarter.
Jeremy Lin scored four points late in the first period to trim the Knicks' lead to just five entering the second quarter. Jeremy Lamb began the second half with a jumper and followed it up another another basket. In Sunday's game against Portland, Lin found a streaking Lamb for an exciting alley-oop. The two connected for a similar play midway through the second quarter. The bench duo helped begin a 17-4 Charlotte run that would give the Hornets a double-digit lead for a portion of the quarter. However, the Knicks would go on a run of their own to end the second quarter, giving Charlotte just a two-point lead entering the break.
Charlotte built their lead to six right out of the gate but Anthony began to heat up. He wasn't much of a factor in the first half when the two teams met last week in Charlotte, but similar to that game, the perennial All-Star got going early on in the second half. He had nine of New York's first 15 points in the third quarter. Porzinigis hit a deep three as an exclamation point for a New York run that flipped the script and gave the Knickerbockers the lead.
Kemba Walker wasn't deterred. He kept plugging in the third quarter, becoming the Hornets only source of offense for much of the second half. He kept it close for a period but two Langston Galloway three-pointers in the final minute gave New York an eight-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
Walker got some of his MSG magic going to begin the fourth, making a dazzling play that put basketball fans on their feet. Back-to-back treys from New York though gave the fans something to cheer about for the home team and put the Knicks on top by nine, the largest lead of the night at that point.
Williams was flagged for a flagrant two foul after a hard shot to Lou Amundson's upper body. As a result, he was ejected from the game and will not be available for tomorrow night's game against Brooklyn.
Shortly after, Anthony had the ball in the post and Lin went to double but Anthony kicked the ball out to Galloway and he knocked down another trey. The miscommunication on defense combined with the ejection left Charlotte reeling. But they still had a chance.
Batum made his first, and only, field goal of the game with 2:34 left in the game. The shot put the Hornets within four points of the Knicks. Walker had a couple of clean looks and the Hornets attempted a few triples, but couldn't convert any of them in the final two minutes. New York would ice the game with four free throws in the final 11 seconds. Those points were the only tallies the Knicks marked in the final 5:54 of the game.
New York killed Charlotte on the glass, and defensively, the Hornets just weren't there. Their effort was low and at times they just had no interest in defending. Against New York, that can be dangerous.
Walker scored a season-high 31 points. Lin had 13 points off the bench while Lamb contributed 12. Spencer Hawes had his most points as a Hornet, scoring 14 in the loss.
Charlotte flies back home to face Brooklyn tomorrow night to begin a long home-stand. Both teams will be on the second night of a back-to-back when the game tips-off at 7:00 p.m. ET.