The Charlotte Hornets let one slip away. As simple as that.
The Hornets traveled to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans in the latter of a back-to-back, where they had rallied the night before to beat the Atlanta Hawks 100-96 in Charlotte.
The Hawks win was a big one. Atlanta was off to an impressive 9-2 start, and were atop the Eastern Conference. So, tonight, the Hornets loss stings a bit more than usual.
Coming into the game, the Pelicans held a 3-10 record, and had lost their first eight games of the season. Yes, the Pelicans had won three of their last five but still hadn't shown enough signs in turning a corner. Maybe tonight they did.
The Hornets were without Cody Zeller tonight, who had injured his shoulder in last night's duel with the Hawks. He was clearly missed as Anthony Davis was able to put up 38 points for the second consecutive game, while adding 16 rebounds. Zeller wouldn't stopped Davis, per say, but would have been able to limit all the open looks he saw at the center position. Zeller, who scored 23 last night, was also missed on the offensive end. Roy Hibbert started in his place and didn't even play a full 17 minutes.
Out of the gate, it was a slow start for both teams. The back-to-back shooting hangover was noticeable. The Pelicans, who had beaten the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night, shot 32 percent in the first quarter and a woeful 1/8 from deep. The Hornets weren't much better, but thanks to Marco Belinelli's two 3-point makes, Charlotte took a 23-21 advantage after one.
The bench-unit was great all night long. Four players combined to score 51 points and helped the Hornets get off to a 41-30 lead with 4:48 minutes left in the first half. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also played an energized quarter that eventually helped him get his third double-double of the season with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Uncharacteristically however, the rest of the starters struggled to close the quarter and were on the back-end of a 17-5 Pelicans run to finish the half and trailed 47-46 at the half.
But as the season has warranted thus far, the Hornets began the 2nd half with fire in their eyes. Kemba Walker finished with 25 points in the game and scored 13 of them in the third quarter. At the 6:30 mark, Walker was outscoring the Pelicans 13-11 in the quarter alone. However, it was at that same moment when Jrue Holiday reentered the game and scored nine points to keep his team alive. Holiday, in only his second appearance of the year after taking the first three weeks of the season to tend to his ailing wife and their new-born child, finished with an impressive stat-line of 22 points and nine assists. Even after Holiday's third quarter surge, though, the Hornets still led 85-74 heading into the last frame.
Unfortunately, for the Hornets, the Pelicans' Langston Galloway decided to have his best quarter of the season with 18 points on 5/5 3-point shooting. Galloway's crucial long-ball with 3:48 made it a three-point game at 103-100, and Davis followed it up with one of his own to tie it. The two teams traded baskets in the end and were tied 108-108 at the end of regulation.
Walker, though, had a chance to win it with an elbow jumper as time expired, but hit the back-iron resulting in free basketball for every viewer. He missed a shot he makes routinely.
In overtime, the Hornets looked exhausted and were unable to move the ball as they had all night. Slowly but surely, the Pelicans inched their way to a second win in as many nights, and sealed it at the free-throw line after Nicolas Batum missed a fall-away corner 3-pointer down 119-116 with nine seconds left.
The Hornets had it. They know it. That's why this one stings a bit more than usual. However, an 8-4 record is nothing to hang your heads down over. Back-to-backs are unkind at times, and the Hornets need to re-focus for a home-matchup with the Grizzlies on Monday.
Let's not forget how awesome Friday night was.