With the outcome of the Eastern Conference playoff race likely coming down to the smallest of margins, tonight's game was the most important of 2015. All the pre-game talk from both the players and head coach Steve Clifford pointed to the importance of winning tonight, and the team delivered, jumping out to an early lead that rarely looked in doubt.
The Hornets led 35-15 after one quarter. Marvin Williams, who replaced Cody Zeller in the starting lineup for matchup purposes, took full advantage, scoring 10 points in the first quarter, finishing with 18 points, going 4-5 from the 3-point line. Al Jefferson also scored 10 points in the first quarter, and finished with 19 for the game, along with six rebounds. At one point, the Hornets had made 13-15 field goals, good for 86.7 percent. Mo Williams played the role of distributor early on, recording 9 assists in the first quarter alone (he would finish with 14).
It was about the best start the Hornets could have asked for, but it wasn't quite sustainable. The Nets managed to chip away at the lead throughout the second quarter, and pulled within 12 points to end the half. At this point, the game would go one of two ways. Either the Nets would continue to chip away and make it a close game, or the Hornets would start the second half just as the had the first. Fortunately, it was the latter, as Charlotte jumped out a 10-2 run early to bring the lead back up to 20.
The Hornets would build on the lead, with Mo Williams scoring 9 of his 14 points in 3rd quarter. At one point the team lead Brooklyn by 26, and entered the fourth quarter with a 22 point lead. After holding off a potential late run, the Hornets maintained the lead and were able to give the bench mob some minutes late in the game. For those wondering, Troy Daniels finished with three points, going 1-2 from behind the arc, while Noah Vonleh played five minutes and registered nothing else (this isn't a knock, he had zero points, shot attempts, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, or turnovers).
Tonight's win was one of the most complete performances from the team this season. A difference maker was Clifford's decision to start Marvin Williams, who matched up better with Brooklyn's smaller starting lineup than Zeller. As athletic as Zeller is, Marvin is more adept at guarding small forwards. The payoff was more than a better matchup however, as Marvin had one of his best games of the season.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist registered another double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds), and at this point these performances are becoming routine. He's been playing incredible basketball since returning from injury, and his jump shot is improving each game. Most impressive tonight was his on-ball defense, particularly on Joe Johnson, who did not score until early in the third quarter.
Gerald Henderson put in another strong shooting display tonight, and is quietly becoming one of the team's best outside scorers. That poor stretch he had during the team's most recent five game losing streak is behind him, as he is showing a lot of confidence in his ability to knock down jump shots. He finished with 19 points on 7-11 shooting. He was also 1-2 from the 3-point line, and over his last four games he is shooting 46.7 percent from beyond the arc. Could he be turning into a decent 3-point shooter? It's only four games, but these numbers are just a tiny bit exciting.
Zeller had a nice game off the bench, scoring 13 points on 5-9 shooting. Bismack Biyombo finished with seven points and eight rebounds, and was 5-6(!) from the free throw line.
For Brooklyn, Deron Williams led the team with 12 points and six assists. Mason Plumlee and Bojan Bogdanovic finished with 11 points each.
The Hornets will return home to take on the Toronto Raptors on Friday, kicking off an important stretch of three games in four nights, all against Eastern Conference teams.