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Charlotte Hornets 97, New York Knicks 84: Notes and Observations

In the second quarter of last night's game coach Steve Clifford took a timeout just to scold P.J. Hairston. A few observations on what Hairston did wrong on a certain set play to earn the criticism and how it motivated him to record a new career-high in points.

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P.J. Hairston Motivated by Criticism

The most unexpected contribution last night came from P.J. Hairston whose career-high of 20 points put the Hornets over the top in a wobbly bout against the Knicks.

After the game Hairston candidly replied to Dell Curry that his performance was inspired by coach Clifford getting on his case:

I reckon that Hairston is referencing a scolding to which the audience was privy as well. With little less than eight minutes left in the second quarter coach Clifford called a time-out just to criticize P.J. over him not knowing what to do on a certain play. Some of the words used were picked up by the nearby microphones, while others you can probably read from Clifford's lips:

So what did Hairston do wrong on this particular play? He didn't recognize one of Charlotte's motion offense's set plays and thus stalled the possession, much to Clifford's annoyance.

I imagine that it could be the following set (or at least something similar where Hairston gets to the middle thanks to a dribble hand-off) and it usually looks like this. A wing player (in this case Nicolas Batum) comes off a down-screen (set by Cody Zeller), only to hand the ball right back to the ball handler (Kemba Walker) with a hand-off:

Said ball handler continues his motion to run a pick-n-roll with the author of the previous screen.

And the wing follows in his steps to use the same screen.

It's a whirlwind of action designed to put the defense through a lot of decisions which have to be made in a split-second. Switch in a lazy manner, go under the screen or get unexpectedly hit by a screen - you'll most likely give the Hornets some necessary daylight for a shot.

Note how Rudy Gobert is busy containing the initial Kemba pick-n-roll and cannot help Gordon Hayward with guarding the second pseudo Batum pick-n-roll. Meanwhile, on the other side of the court Jeremy Lin and Marvin Williams engage the two other Jazz defenders with a mis-direction back-screen designed to keep their attention away from the real play.

The play is a testament of this year's Charlotte Hornets team which has installed a lot of motion offense sets and goes through them in fine speed looking for three-point looks.

Such sets, however, cannot be executed when your ball handler (Brian Roberts) is heading full speed towards you ready to run the set and has to put on the breaks since your mind is somewhere else and you're visibly chatting with Carmelo Anthony.

In Hairston's meager defense, he probably isn't accustomed to this set as the Kemba Walker's, Nicolas Batum's and Jeremy Lin's of the team usually execute it.

The Motivated Hairston Attacking the Rim

The fire in P.J.'s eyes was visible in the second half. Some trash talk with Kristaps Porzingis was the cherry on the top of the cake for the usually trigger-happy shooter who used his touches for aggressive drives to the rim.

I'm definitely not going out on a limb when guessing that during this and the last season there had never been three possessions in a row which ended with a Hairston lay-up:

Doing so more often would only help him as a player. His questionable shot selection notwithstanding, mixing it up and adding some diversity to his game would only increase his value. Despite Hairston's troubles at finishing at the rim, a player of his athleticism cannot settle for so many threes when the close-out by the opposing player is so daring:

When the man guarding him is in a stance which is completely useless for defense, he should drive.

Some more random notes:

The Small Lineups

During the two last games Charlotte has played the three man lineup of Kemba Walker, Brian Roberts and Troy Daniels for 19 minutes. Daniels and Roberts have also clocked nine minutes with Lin in the place of Walker. Despite the two victories, there have been plenty of buckets given up due to guys playing at least one position up or the overall lineup out there not being defensive-savvy enough. Such "next man up" spirit might work for a couple of games but it usually shows its ugly side in the long run. Any of the injured players returning would be a welcome sight.

Pizza for Football

I enjoy the running gag of Stephanie Ready specifically being excited for the team scoring 95 points (and earning half off the price at Papa John's for the fans) the day before NFL football.

Jordan and Batum Conversing

Team owner Michael Jordan and Nicolas Batum had a energetic conversation during a Hornets possession which seemingly ended in MJ exclaiming: "That's how Frank needs to do it more often. He needs to go down low and bump fools around!"

Finally "Short" Works

Earlier this season I did a write-up on coach Clifford's pet out-of-bounds play "Short". It used to be a highlight alley-oop generating play for Gerald Henderson, one which he recognized in his first time back at Charlotte with the Blazers and depicted to his teammates seconds before the Hornets ran it.

Nicolas Batum got the best of Hendo back then, however, since then the team hasn't successfully ran "Short" even once. Most defenders seem to know that it's coming and stay in the paint, instead of following their assignment through the screen and falling for it.

Well, for what it's worth, "Short" worked again yesterday. This time around Jeremy Lin was the one on the receiving end for a layup.