As I was trying to jot down observation notes for this post, I found myself struggling to distinguish between the blues of the opposing jerseys. My eyes were constantly darting around the Orlando Magic's Amway Center court, desperately searching for the sharp points of Jeremy Lin's head as a way to identify the Charlotte Hornets. Unfortunately, after gouging Jerryd Bayless eyeball out last Saturday, the shooting guard — whose 'do was first seen on a Sega Genesis console — had his hair slicked back like a senior hoping to get lucky at prom.
At many points, I was lost.
After erasing a lead that peaked at 19 points with a 26-7 run in the fourth quarter, the Hornets upset the Magic at home 120-116 in overtime. It was one of Charlotte's most exciting games of the year.
Here are some takeaways from the matchup.
Side note: Elfrid Payton and Lin standing side-by-side has to be a future Sports Clips advertisement.
Kemba Walker played out of his mind
Charlotte took their first lead of the fourth following a Kemba Walker fast-break layup. Shooting 85.8 percent on free throws, he drained both clutch shots at the end of regulation. The game was then tied after Victor Oladipo launched a forced, miraculous bank-shot three that sent the game into overtime.
After a backdoor cut put Charlotte up four points to start the extra period, Walker rested his cramping body. Worn down by the 40+ minutes of play, he took a couple strenuous gasps while massaging his legs, before returning to the court and finishing in spectacular fashion.
Despite some faux-pas at the end of regulation and overtime (leave the man alone, look how long he played!), Kemba finished strong, pushing for Eastern Conference player of the week with 40 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds. The points tally was the third highest of his career — his second highest against the Magic — prompting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Nicolas Batum to crash Walker's postgame interview, encouraging coaches to select him as an All-Star reserve.
2016 has been a monster year for Walker; he's managed 28.8 points in his last five games and is carrying the team on his back with 24.3 points since Christmas, the highest in the Eastern Conference.
Injuries give the bench moment to shine, despite travel woes
The Hornets are now 3-7 in their last 10, and the squad has more casualties than a Game of Thrones episode after George R.R. Martin sprinkles a pinch of bloodlust to sweeten his creative coffee. Three starters are MIA, as Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, Al Jefferson, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have all succumbed to various injuries.
Their absence gave the bench crucial opportunities to step up.
Charlotte consistently spread the floor, nabbed 14 offensive rebounds and scored 17 second-chance points.
At one point, all five players on the floor drained a triple. Charlotte's 29 3-point attempts per game is the third most in the NBA, and they are tied for fourth with 10.1 made (the Hornets banked in their average of 10 tonight).
Spencer Hawes notched his first double-double since 2013, hitting the wide-open clutch shot from the left corner with 17.3 seconds remaining in overtime, the dagger that eventually halted Orlando's winning aspirations. Despite the lowest field goal percentage (39.1 percent) of his career this season, Hawes went 7-of-14 last night, finishing with 16 points and 10 boards.
The second unit of Tyler Hanbrough and Frank Kaminsky played well defensively and worked the glass aggressively. Even Troy Daniels was abandoned by the Orlando defense, scoring a season high 17 points.
The victory comes with a silver lining. The Magic have lost nine of 10, and the first three quarters proved the Hornets are still terrible on the road.
Their away record (5-15) is the third worst in the Eastern Conference and resembles that guy hunched over at a local bar, his varsity jacket straining over a corpulent frame, reminiscing about his glories at the local high-school years ago, and how he would never leave his hometown in fear of failure.
I'm not sure if they miss Michael Jordan watching at the Hive or what.