Just sit back and take it all in. The Charlotte Hornets just traveled up north and ran away from one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference late in the game thanks to their team play, defense and depth.
Go back and reread that last sentence. Would you have ever expected this team, coming in on a five-game losing streak, coming in allowing 100+ points and scoring 81 points or fewer in three of their last five games, would be able to go into Chicago and put away the Bulls? Yes, the Bulls were without Derrick Rose (all thoughts and prayers go out to him. No player deserves to go through what he is going through), but this is still a very tough and well-coached Chicago Bulls team.
I mean, the often offensively-challenged Charlotte Hornets nearly put up 100 points on a Tom Thibodeau-coached team.
But how did they do it?
It was a great team effort, first and foremost. The team played its best defense in weeks, and looked the best on offense that it has in a long time. Charlotte had five different players score in double-digits and outrebounded the second-best rebounding team in the association.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made a case for Most Improved Player while facing off against the favorite for the award in Jimmy Butler. MKG finished with another double-double (18 points, 12 rebounds) to go with an assist, a steal and just one foul while playing shutdown defense on the likes of Butler, Mirotic and Dunleavy. 11 of MKG's 18 points came in the first half, and was a big part of why Charlotte was tied with Chicago at half.
In the third quarter, it was Mo Williams' turn to step up. After missing most of the first half due to foul trouble, the newest Hornet took over the third quarter, scoring 13 of the team's 23 points in that quarter. Williams ended the evening with 17 points, a team-high five assists and a steal. The fourth quarter belonged to Al Jefferson. He had struggled up until then, shooting just 3-of-10. But, when it mattered most, Jefferson brought his A game. He shot 4-of-7 and scored 8 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. It was as if MKG and Mo Williams had softened up the Bulls, and Jefferson came in to land the knockout punch.
Props also need to be given to coach Steve Clifford tonight. He has received a fair amount of criticism for his lineups this year (and deservedly so), but he did a solid job tonight mixing it up and keeping the Bulls on their toes. Marvin Williams also deserves credit, as he played much better than his box score indicated. His defense tonight was on point, and he did a great job down low containing the likes of Taj Gibson — a player with quite a few pounds over Williams.
I hope these teams meet in the playoffs this season. Not just because I believe it would be a winnable series for Charlotte, but because it would be a great series in general. Both teams match up well against one another and play similar styles. What more could you ask for in the postseason?
The Hornets will need a few more victories to ensure a spot in the postseason, and their next challenge comes Friday night as they visit Boston and the new-look Celtics.