The Charlotte Hornets erased a 22 point deficit to beat the Sacramento Kings in overtime. It was one of the most exciting games of the season, and improved the Hornets to 3-0 on their current seven game home stand. A lot stood out.
First, what happened in the 3rd quarter?
The Hornets were tied 60-60 heading into halftime, but found themselves down 17 heading into the fourth. It was a dumpster fire of a quarter, with the Hornets playing poor on both sides of the ball. Sacramento caught fire, the Hornets didn't match their intensity, and suddenly they found themselves trailing by 22. At this point, it looked like Charlotte would suffer their first loss of the home stand, but the defense tightened up a bit late in the quarter, and the Hornets managed to hit some shots.
The late heroics and end result made for an exciting finish, but let's not let them totally off the hook here. Sacramento built that lead rather easily, and the Hornets look all too willing to let it slip out of their hands. Obviously things changed in the fourth quarter, but we've got to remember that despite the 8-6 start, the team still has things to figure out if they want to keep in the competitive Eastern Conference.
Walker saved the Hornets
Kemba Walker's "hero ball" can be a divisive topic. He's been known to rely on it a lot -- Zach Lowe even mentioned in his recent interview with Walker that Kemba has attempted more shots with under a minute remaining than anyone else in the past two season. There's been the times it's worked, and the times when he'd be better off deferring to another player. However, it was clear Monday night that if anyone was going to get the Hornets back in the game, it had to be Walker.
Walker's quick series of made baskets early in the quarter got the lead down to 12, and when the defense finally tightened up later in the quarter, Walker's heroics made a significant impact. Yes, the five man unit Steve Clifford went with late in the 4th and in overtime stepped up collectively, but they wouldn't have gotten the chance without Walker's heroics throughout the 4th quarter and OT.
It's hard to say where Walker's made layup with .07 remaining ranks. Had it turned out as the game winner, it would be up higher, but the significance of the shot (with the comeback, and how it ultimately kept the Hornets above .500) puts it higher on the list.
Praise to the five who finished the game
Walker led the way, but the unit Clifford went with to close the game played outstanding on both ends. Frank Kaminsky role was unexpected, but he delivered, playing great defense on Rudy Gay, and scoring a couple of big baskets (though did anyone notice him run after his made 3-pointer in overtime? He didn't think that was falling. Good miss, rook). I asked in Friday's notes and observations whether he could string three good games together. He did, and now we've got to wonder how long he can keep this good form going. His confidence his growing -- Clifford said post game that he went to sub him out for Marvin Williams late in the game but Kaminsky asked to stay in -- so at this point a bigger role has to be considered for him, at least as long as he continues to play well.
While Walker's heroics helped the team get into overtime, Jeremy Lin scored key shots in overtime. After making a couple of tough layups, and hit a step-back fade-away jump shot to push the Hornets' lead out to four -- a point in the game when they really needed a bucket. Lin's 14 points on 5-12 shooting won't stand out to the box score reader who didn't watch the game, but Lin thrived in overtime, particularly when the Kings tried to take Walker out of the game. Walker's hero ball is great when it's on, but having others who can score when Walker is being denied makes such a difference, as it did tonight.
Finally, respect to Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller, who weren't so much involved on offense, but helped collectively spark Charlotte on defense. Zeller at the five spot worked tonight, and it could end up being a go-to position against teams that play an athletic five man. Zeller's screen for Walker at the end of regulation was well-timed and set as well.
The apparent injury to DeMarcus Cousins did affect the outcome of the game, but give the Hornets credit for overcoming the deficit. It was an important win to keep building momentum, and with two tough Eastern Conference teams (Washington and Cleveland) coming Wednesday and Friday, Charlotte will need it.