One of the biggest questions for the Charlotte Hornets entering this season was their bench. After playing such a vital role to the team's success last season, what could the team expect from a bench unit that replaced Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lin with the likes of Roy Hibbert and Marco Belinelli.
Well, for at least one night, fans did not need to worry.
51 of the team's 97 points came from their bench. Four of the five bench players who played Friday night scored in double-digits, led by 16 from Jeremy Lamb, whose performance reminded coaches and fans alike exactly what he is capable of. Games like tonight are what head coach Steve Clifford has dreamt of getting from Lamb on a consistent basis. The question becomes can he do that?
Marco Belinelli added 12 points, while Cody Zeller and Spencer Hawes - both thursted into extended minutes thanks to an early injury to Hibbert, each added 10. Zeller in particular helped change the course of the game when he drove on Hassan Whiteside, drawing a foul from the center with 7:40 remaining in the third quarter. It would be Whiteside's fourth foul, forcing him to the bench until late in the fourth, and would help key a ridiculous 48-19 run.
In particular, the grouping of Ramon Sessions, Lamb, Belinelli, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Hawes deserve recognition. It was this five that played the majority of the fourth quarter for the Hornets. It was this group that held Miami to just seven points through the first nine minutes of the final period, and helped limit the Heat to a cool 20.8% shooting from the floor in that quarter.
The performance these five put on was a defensive masterclass, and should be used by any coaches who want to show what the ideal team defense looks like. It can (and should) also be used the next time anyone asks if just how good of a coach Clifford is.
Saturday night will be a tough challenge, facing the Boston Celtics on the end of a back-to-back. The bench's strong fourth-quarter play helped the starters recharge, and hopefully be more energetic/less tired come the home opener.
But for now, let us enjoy this victory, and be thankful Bench Force 1 has returned.