Maybe I'm buying too much into narrative, but this certainly feels like a big win for the Hornets. It was easily one of their worst offensive performances of the entire season, but they still shot .484 from three on 31 attempts, and got to the line 22 times, en route to a 87-82 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Yes, the Bucks ranked 30th of 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency entering today's game, but that did not look like the case today. Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo wreaked havoc all around the court, and the whole Bucks team did a great job of minimizing Greg Monroe's defensive limitations.
That's not to say Monroe didn't have an impact on the game, of course. When the Bucks looked like they had the best chance of winning, Monroe was dominating offensively on the inside, and he had just forced Cody Zeller into his fourth foul in ten minutes. A 9-0 run for Milwaukee midway through the third quarter gave them a temporary lead, but the Hornets defense prevailed the rest of the way, and Charlotte got some timely offensive production along the way too.
Nicolas Batum shook off an erratic game (and nine turnovers) to hit some big shots at the end, Marvin Williams hit a couple big threes en route to a 12-point performance, and Kemba Walker led the way with 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting, while hitting three triples, and five free throws.
The Hornets struggled early in the first quarter, hitting very few shots from the floor, and turning the ball over way more often than any of us are used to seeing from Charlotte. After finding themselves down by as many as eleven points in the quarter, the Hornets fought back hard against the Bucks, led by Walker, who was active on both ends of the floor, hitting shots and drawing fouls on offense, and creating havoc and turnovers on defense.
The second unit helped the Hornets turn around the game, led by the backcourt of the Jeremys, and some nice play by Frank Kaminsky, who looks much improved on defense. Jeremy Lamb knocked down a couple threes in the quarter and cleaned up on the boards, leading the team in rebounds at halftime. The interior defense was strong too, holding the Bucks to only nine points in the second frame. The Denver Nuggets might be impressed by that, but for most NBA teams, that's a sign of great defensive play.
Al Jefferson was injured late in the first quarter, and left the game after having played only seven minutes. He did not return, and he is scheduled to get an MRI on his strained left calf on Monday. With the way Tyler Hansbrough played in limited minutes today (which is to say: pretty well), the Hornets might feel a little more confident with the rotation of Zeller, Kaminsky, Hansbrough, and Spencer Hawes in the frontcourt, at least for the next few games, while Jefferson fully recovers.
Some shorter takeaways from the game:
Jeremy Lin had a nice performance despite missing a couple open shots, helping to move the ball, especially late in the first quarter when the Hornets faced their biggest deficit of the game. He'll need to start shooting more efficiently for him to warrant extra playing time (without an injury to a backcourt player), but the second unit has been ganging up on opposing teams all year, and Lin's a big reason why.
I get what Steve Clifford is trying to do with P.J. Hairston, but I'm fairly unconvinced that Hairston has much positives to offer the team at this point in the season. I'll be patient before suggesting the team cut ties with him, but it sure seems as if the team's a lot worse off with him on the court when he's not shooting well--and that's been just about all year.
I wouldn't worry too much about Kaminsky's 2-8 shooting line today. He's getting more confident in his shot, and he's making much smarter selections with the ball. He might not ever have elite passing ability, but he'll never be the type of player who doesn't look to pass. He's still shooting .391 from three on the season.
Even if Jeremy Lamb's shooting regresses a little bit, he's still an absolute steal, and the team is very lucky to have him. That said: I'm very worried about regression.