The Charlotte Hornets continued their journey west on the current road trip, hopefully leaving last night's performance in Salt Lake City far behind them.
While they improved from the previous night's debacle, the result was the same: a loss.
Charlotte started off fine, even gaining an early 13-9 lead before foul trouble became the first Hornet misstep. Marvin Williams and Gerald Henderson both picked up two fouls early on which forced Jason Maxiell and Kemba Walker in earlier than coach Steve Clifford had hoped. The Clippers didn't immediately attack the mismatch they now had with Maxiell on Blake Griffin but eventually the ball was pushed to the block and Griffin took advantage there and on the pick-and-pop. Kemba continued his cold shooting and the early lead was lost. An 11-3 run to end the first quarter gave the Clippers a 28-20 lead.
The Hornets carried over a Kemba three from the first quarter to make a 7-0 run in the second to cut the deficit to four, 28-24. Nate Robinson then hit back-to-back 3-pointers to extend LA's lead back to what it had been and more. Robinson is playing on temporary contracts while Jamal Crawford remains out with a right calf strain. Spencer Hawes dropped a trey before the Clippers starters came back in to close the half. LA's offense was then rolling off a series of Paul-Blake pick-and-pops and Redick getting hot from the perimeter after a slow start. The league's second best offense took a 59-41 lead into halftime.
The origins of Charlotte's comeback can be traced back to the way they played out of an early second half break from play. A series of communication letdowns on defense caused the Clippers lead to balloon to 22. Despite that, the Hornets continued to play with physicality, heart, and effort. That style combined with LA turnovers and Charlotte's aggressive drives, leading to free throw attempts, helped the Hornets get back and make this one a game until the very end. The Hornets had nine turnovers in the first half to the Clippers four but as the team's entered the fourth quarter, Los Angeles had 12 turnovers, one more than Charlotte's 11. Kemba Walker scored seven points and assisted on a three-pointer as the Hornets went into the fourth down by just three, 77-74.
Al Jefferson was the only productive player offensively for most of the first half for Charlotte. Until late in the third quarter, he was the only starter in double-figures. His teammates decided to join him in the second half. With just over eight minutes left in the game, in the midst of a 22-9 run, the Hornets got within one point, 82-81. Charlotte could never take or tie the lead despite rolling out the Hack-A-DeAndre strategy. Jordan's consistent 1-of-2 trips to the line was always just enough to keep the Hornets in the red. Charlotte was down just four, 96-92, with 22.6 seconds left but a missed Henderson mid-range jumper, after the obvious called play for Mo wasn't there, doomed the Hornets as Chris Paul sealed the game from the free throw line.
Jefferson ended the night with a team-high 21 points to go along with six rebounds. Marvin Williams gave us his first double-double of the season, accumulating 10 points and 11 rebounds. After a really strong second half, Henderson ended with 16 points. The Mo-Kemba backcourt got some good run in the second half while Mo finished with 18 points and Kemba finished with 15. The duo though shot a combined 8-of-21 from the field. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 10 points and seven boards but he was the source of the Hornets comeback. His grit, grind, and unwillingness to give in helped will this team back within one and a shot at the lead.
After the loss, Charlotte is now a full game back of Miami, Boston, and Indiana for the 7th and 8th seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Hornets are back on the floor Friday night in Sacramento at 9 p.m. ET for an important showdown with the Kings. If the Hornets can get a win Friday, they finish their road trip at Minnesota and at Chicago. A team they're better than and a team they just beat. That gives them the possibility for a solid 3-2 record in a pivotal stretch of games.