After a road trip that saw the Hornets drop four of five games, the team and fans were hoping for a geographical cure. It had been nine days since the Hornets were inside the Hive and the idea of their return, relieved worries across the community.
Last time out against Brooklyn, the Hornets got out to an early 13-2 run on the way to their blowout win earlier this month. Tonight, Charlotte again got out to an early advantage, gaining a 11-6 lead. Gerald Henderson hit his first two jumpers before missing his next two shot attempts in the midst of a 6-0 Nets run. Brooklyn grabbed the lead but the Hornets took it right back after an Al Jefferson put-back. The two teams traded baskets and with under a minute left in the first quarter, the Nets took another lead, this time by one. The Hornets scored four points in the final 30 seconds, giving them a 26-23 lead after one period of play. It was the first time since March 6 that Charlotte led after the first quarter, breaking a nine game streak of going into the second period with a deficit.
Mo Williams began the second quarter with the second unit, facilitating, trying the best he could to create for his teammates. Often Williams was forced to take the shot late in the shot clock. That didn't keep the offense from stalling though. The Hornets slowly built their lead and on a completed and-1 dunk by Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte nudged their lead to double-digits, 37-27. Brooklyn's Brook Lopez was starting to get his way though, something that continued until the final buzzer sound. At a point in the second, 22 of the Nets 34 points came in the paint. The Hornets again found themselves down in the final minute of the quarter but back-to-back baskets by Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist late in the period gave the Hornets a 46-43 lead at halftime. MKG had done a phenomenal job on Joe Johnson, forcing hm to shoot 1-of-5 from the field for two points in the first half. Henderson also did well on the defensive end, holding his assignment, Deron Williams, to 1-of-5 shooting for three points. Both teams field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, rebounds, and turnovers were all similar, if not exactly the same after one half of play. The difference was Charlotte's advantage in second chance points, 13-2.
Charlotte's three-point halftime lead quickly increased to seven in the third quarter. Led by Brook Lopez, Brooklyn came charging back. The Nets used a 13-2 run to take the lead midway through the third quarter, a lead they wouldn't relinquish until the end.. At this point the game had essentially become Al Jefferson vs. Brook Lopez. Neither player really had any chance of stopping the other. Lopez simply had more successes than Jefferson to keep the Nets lead intact. A pair of Mo Williams free throws brought the Hornets within two but a Bojan Bogodanovic jumper at the buzzer put Brooklyn's lead at four as the fourth quarter approached.
The Hornets started the fourth quarter 0-of-5 from the field and the Nets built their lead to eight. Fans, players, and coaches could fill this pivotal game slipping away. Hornets head coach Steve Clifford made the call to go small. He put Kemba Walker, Mo, Henderson, Kidd-Gilchrist, and Jefferson on the floor. Charlotte quickly went on a 5-0 run with all the points accumulated by Henderson. Charlotte was now down just three. The 5-0 run stretched to an 11-5 run and the Hornets tied the game at 79 with 2:36 to play after a pair of Mo Williams free throws.
A Lopez jumper put the Nets back up two but a great MKG block followed on Brooklyn's next possession and he recovered the block, started the break, and dished it to Walker who laid it for a bucket and the tie. The very next time down the floor, Brooklyn's Alan Anderson blew by Kemba on the baseline for a dunk, putting the Nets up by two. Out of a timeout, Henderson got the ball, went to work in the post, and tied the game again on a fadeaway jumper. Lopez was fouled on the other end, sinking both free throws, putting Brooklyn up again. Al Jefferson responded with two of his own, tying the game at 85 with 30 seconds to play. A Brook Lopez-Deron Williams pick-and-roll, featuring a short roll by Lopez, ended in a Lopez floater, giving the Nets a 87-85 lead. That short roll on the pick-and-roll killed the Hornets all night. Kemba Walker could not convert a layup on a drive and the Hornets were forced to put Deron Williams on the line with 13.2 second left. He made both, making it a 89-85 game. After an unaware foul by Jarrett Jack, it was Kemba's turn at the line. Walker missed the second of two, with Williams coming away with the rebound and going to the line again. He made both again, putting Brooklyn up 91-86. Kemba drove the floor and laid the ball in with 3.2 seconds left. Lopez hesitated on the ensuing inbounds and the hesitation combined with pressure by Mo Williams forced the ball to go off Williams. It was now Hornets ball, down 91-88, with 3.2 seconds left. Charlotte tried to get the ball to Marvin Williams at the 3-point line on the inbounds play but the pass was tipped by Lopez and the Hornets fell at home to the Nets, 91-88.
Steve Clifford said the called play at the end was to get the ball to Walker or Mo in the corner. Marvin was open at the elbow for a trey but the size the Nets put in the area broke up the possible hail mary. Clifford went on to say after the game that he felt his team played "good enough defense to win," and that "four minutes of discombobulation" cost them the game.
That discombobulation gave the Hornets their fifth loss in their last six games. It also gave the Nets the tiebreaker over them since the game decided the season series, putting it in Brooklyn's favor 2-1.
Entering tonight's game, the Hornets were ninth in the Eastern Conference and a full game ahead of the 11th place Nets. Now? The teams have identical records and after Indiana's win tonight, the Hornets are in 11th and the Nets are in 10th. Miami, Boston, and Indiana make up the seventh, eighth, and ninth seeds respectively. Charlotte is now a half game back of Boston and Indiana and two-and-a-half games back of Miami in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Charlotte's next game is Friday evening at Washington. The Wizards lost tonight to the Pacers. The Hornets and Wizards meet for the last of four match-ups on the season. The Hornets defeated the Wizards 92-88 on February 2 in Washington and 94-87 on February 5 in Charlotte, while Washington took the third match-up 95-69 on March 9 in Charlotte. The game tips at 7:00 p.m. ET in the Capital.