The Charlotte Hornets were playing the Washington Wizards, the three seed in the East, Monday night. There was no Kemba Walker, the heart and soul of the team's recent offensive explosions. There was no Bismack Biyombo, the brick wall that represented Charlotte's defense. Yet, the Hornets were able to put together a solid offensive and defensive performance and take down the Wizards, 92-88, in the team's best win of the season. The win improves the Hornets to 21-27 on the season, while Washington falls to 31-18.
The Hornets finished the night shooting 46.8% from the floor, but spent the majority of the evening shooting above .500. Al Jefferson and Brian Roberts finished tied for a game high with 18 points, and Gerald Henderson added in 17 of his own. Jefferson also had 12 rebounds. Not to be outdone, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had himself a night, finishing with 13 points and 13 boards, and the backup point guard duo of Lary Steal combined for 20 points, three rebounds and three assists on 50% shooting off the bench (though Gary Neal and Lance Stephenson each had three turnovers, tied for a team-high).
The drought is also over! The Hornets hit a 3-pointer! (Four of them, actually.)
The game was a back and forth affair for the entire evening. The Hornets made a run. Washington countered. Charlotte makes another run. Washington counters again. Charlotte. Washington. Charlotte. Washington. So on and so forth. It was reminiscent of a classic playoff game.
And speaking of classics, Al Jefferson was vintage Al Jefferson in the fourth quarter. He looked cool, calm and collected every time the Hornets called his number down the stretch. Six points and four rebounds of Big Al came in the fourth quarter. He was able to get anything he wanted late and made a strong case for him being the team's clutch go to player. Kemba Walker may have some competition.
While on the topic of Walker, he called into the Hornets' TV broadcast during the second quarter of Monday's game. During an extended interview over the course of said quarter, Walker talked about how he Facetimes with his teammates often to keep in touch and that he believes he will be back "sometime in March," but noted that he "doesn't want to rush anything."
Jefferson was asked about Walker's absence during his postgame interview with Stephanie Ready, which led to this awesome moment. #GetWellKemba
Let us continue on the topic of Walker. Kind of.
His replacement, Brian Roberts, had a solid game of his own tonight. As mentioned above, he finished tied for a game-high with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including a clutch crossover on John Wall and floater over Marcin Gortat late in the fourth quarter and free throws that basically sealed the win. His play tonight is the reason I gave him the nickname "Kemba Light" in the preseason and gave us this beautiful photoshop.
The Wizards, coming off a disappointing overtime loss, were never really able to get into a rhythm. Part of that could be because John Wall was not 100 percent this evening, and it showed. I'm not sure whether it was more of the Hornets defense or John Wall not being completely John Wall (more likely the later), but Washington's star point guard finished with just 16 points on 4-of-14 shooting and a game-high four turnovers.
Fun note: the Hornets' starting backcourt (Roberts and Henderson) actually outscored the Wizards' (Wall and Beal). Who saw that coming?
After going 10-4 in January, Charlotte started off February with arguably the strongest statement possible. Monday's win was a perfect cap to their road trip, which saw an undermanned Hornets squad give the defending champion Spurs all they could handle, blow out the Denver Nuggets and take round one against one of the top teams in the East. It'll be interesting to see if the Hornets can repeat Monday's success in their next game — another showdown with the Wizards Thursday at Time Warner Cable Arena.