The Charlotte Hornets beat the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night in a game that featured Charlotte runs, a Dwight Howard ejection, and lots of Kemba Walker at just the right time. Let’s look at few things that stood out in a statement win over the Hawks.
Nicolas Batum Starts Strong
Batum is a big piece of Charlotte’s plan for success in case you hadn’t noticed. The Hornets are a net negative team in both the first and second quarters this season. As Reinis Lacis pointed out in his Game Trend on Wednesday, Charlotte relies heavily on third quarter dominance to get their game rolling.
It wasn’t a landslide, but the Hornets narrowly won both the first and second quarters against Atlanta. That they kept the game under control in the first half, partially due to an early 14-2 run, has everything to do with Batum and Cody Zeller.
A strong first quarter, starting 3-for-3 from 3-point range and 5-for-6 overall. It’s particularly exciting that Batum found his rhythm within the flow of the offense without having to stop the ball. His first make was the closest thing to ISO ball that he played put up in the first quarter:
After he dropped that first make, it was all action. Curl, hop, swish:
And again, out of the same action off the other wing:
He was rolling early and it was needed as Walker, Marvin Williams and the rest of the Hornets struggled to make it count. It was quite simply the Batum and Zeller show in the opening period. They even connected on one of the nicer assists in the opening quarter:
That was one of Batum’s four assists in the game. After that first quarter outburst, he cooled a bit. Still, he finished the night with 24 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double. And that brings us to the other guy in this equation.
Cody Zeller Plays Big
Minus the video footage, Zeller had his best game of the season. Just like Batum, it was all started by a huge first quarter. How’s this for a shot chart from NBA.com:
That’s the most “stay in your lane” shot chart you will see in your entire life, but doing that kind of work while primarily matched up with Dwight Howard is something more impressive than just knowing your own limitations.
Zeller finished with 23 points on 9-for-10 shooting and 5-for-7 on free throws. Zeller isn’t a small human, but he had to play bigger than he normally would to go at it with Howard for most of the night. It was a punishing affair. Howard absolutely made him work for everything he got with a double-double of his own, 10 points and 18 rebounds, but in the end the indefatigable effort of Zeller paid off. His game was great, but it was the blow taken, not dealt which was the turning point in their matchup.
That effort did more than just fluster Howard. It produced results for Zeller and teammates like Williams:
A forearm to the face. Or neck or head. It was definitely too high and it got Howard ejected with 5:38 to play. The two teams were playing even before that incident, but the game turned irreversibly in Charlotte’s favor as soon as Howard was sent to the showers early. That cleared the way for how the game would be decided:
Again from Batum, just like in the first quarter.
Kemba Carries Charlotte
When you look back on this game and see what set of footprints driving to the rim and launching 3s in the fourth quarter, that is where Kemba carried you.
There was some insinuation that Dennis Schroder was putting it to Walker and getting in his head. That kind of makes sense if you look at his first half chart from NBA.com, it was ugly.
Allow me to explain the above shot chart: It’s bad. Very bad. It’s the kind of shot chart that, after half a case of Coors Light, makes your obnoxious roommate feel confident enough to yell at you about how he could play in the NBA as well as say, Walker. Don’t listen to your roommate, but do start an intervention for that person.
Inexplicably, Walker had an abomination of a first half. It trickled into the second half as the Hawks took their largest lead of the night. Bizarrely, Walker even missed a pair of free throws and only got to the line for a total of six attempts for the entire game. It looked like it was more than just whatever Schroder was up to on defense, as Kemba had a nice pump fake that cleared his defender and he chucked up a shot that barely found front rim.
And then the fourth quarter happened. It took a lot for the Hornets to get there, but once they made it, it was on for Walker. After consulting that awful, no good first half shot chart for Kemba, look at this fourth quarter per NBA.com:
It wasn’t as green as the first quarter charts that Batum and Zeller put up, but each shot that helped comprise these green zones played a huge role in helping the Hornets lock up a huge home win.
The game was about to be out of Charlotte’s reach when Kemba found his range, knocking down a huge 3-pointer over the same Schroder that supposedly had him locked down. Walker looks like he’s actually leaning in, looking for contact and a foul call. Settling for the make probably seems just fine in retrospect:
If I’m really going to commit to the “Kemba carried you” narrative, I need to tie it in with this moment:
Walker had just scored a go-ahead basket right before this play. The crowd was hyped, ready for a big play. An incredible coast-to-coast off the defensive rebound in transition during the pivotal point of a must-win game that established the legitimacy of the Hornets among the Eastern Conference elite. No one would complain if Walker averaged 40, 10 and 10 ever year for the rest of his career, but if he isn’t going to do that, at least he shows up as the leader this team needs in crunch time. Charlotte needed Kemba to close tonight, Kemba needed to close for them, too.
There were a lot of little things to like and dislike. Kaminsky was a big dislike and it is painful to say because I really want to believe in him. He shot 2-for-11, his first attempt was a dive into the lane and a little floater that entirely missed the basket, elegantly thudding off the part of the backboard where the glass and composite guard piece meet. The thud of sadness. Just like his stat line. Let’s all hope better days are ahead, Charlotte will need it as the season wears on.
Hugo was on point.
Hugo was having himself a night of dances during Social Media Night. He hit several others, including the Harlem Shake and Running Man. Just a real solid performance from Hugo. Let’s all hope he’s got more of those in him, still a lot of games to be played.