Superstar players find ways to have their performances matter most in games. You've likely heard some variation on that cliche hundreds, if not thousands of times, by ESPN commentators, armchair analysts, amateur coaches, and Kobe fans. But at a certain point, it becomes a true statement.
Take, for example, James Harden. In one of the ugliest, most brutal, most excruciating games the NBA will ever have to offer, the Houston Rockets superstar player took over the game. Not necessarily through shooting (a 9-for-16 line, while very good, isn't necessarily takeover material), or through facilitation of his team's offense (seven assists as the primary, if not only, ballhandler is good, but we've all seen better), but through brute force. Yes, I'm referring to his 16-19 mark from the free throw line.
Oh, sure, he got bailed out a couple times, but it's not as if the calls were inconsistent. In fact, the only thing that was consistent about this game were whistles. There were 60 fouls called over the course of the game, which is an absurd number. It's one every 48 seconds. That's how many fouls were called. It was only partially because of Harden, but it's not as if the best foul-drawer in the NBA had nothing to do with that number. Harden was the player who best used those calls to his advantage, too. It's like they all said: superstars just find a way to win.
As far as the Charlotte Hornets are concerned, well, they struggled to adapt. The team shot .293 from three, one of their worst marks of the year, and a ghastly .349 from the floor, which does nothing but give me flashbacks to Byron Mullens. A couple perimeter players played well - Jeremy Lin played efficient offense when on the floor (he was in foul trouble early and often, picking up three fouls within his first three minutes on the court), Kemba Walker helped the offense as much as he could (being forced to play with a tepid Nicolas Batum, an ice-cold Marvin Williams, an as-cold-as-usual P.J. Hairston will tend to bring down your assist numbers despite all efforts), and Frank Kaminsky played really well off the bench, leading some to wonder why he wasn't on the court down the stretch. I'm not sure if that's as much "some" as it was "me," but I was definitely wondering why The Tank didn't get a little more burn later in the game, especially after he had established his inside-out game quite nicely.
Outside of the players who maintained their positions on opposite poles, there wasn't a lot to write about in terms of individual Hornets players tonight. Cody Zeller looked as solid as usual. Troy Daniels played, in what might be a case to take some of Hairston's minutes, or might be a case of "we're not playing Lin for the rest of the first half if he's got three fouls." Brian Roberts got into the game.
It was an ugly game against a more talented team whose gameplan revolves around getting their opponents to play ugly basketball. Those things happen every now and then. I wouldn't be too worried about this loss in particular, but the Hornets have been struggling as of late. Perhaps it's natural regression, perhaps it's bad luck, perhaps it's the loss of an important starter in Al Jefferson, or perhaps it's just one of those things that every team goes through (except the Warriors, but they're cheating, so they don't count). No matter what, I'm a little concerned about where the Hornets go for the rest of the season. They're still three games above .500, but they are certainly trending downward, and I'd love to see that trend reversed as soon as possible.