I’m normally not one to get too upset watching sports. I haven’t always been this way, but I’ve seen enough losing over the years both as a fan and working in athletics while in college that I’ve learned to deal with it for the most part. In other words, I’ve accepted that no matter what, your team is going to let you down at some point.
Maybe this is why I wasn’t worried about Charlotte Hornets three game losing streak heading into Friday night. Maybe I’d already accepted the inevitable regression of the team after such a strong start.
But after losing to the Knicks 113-111 in overtime, I was unable to contain myself. The Hornets should not have lost Friday night. Throw aside records, match-ups, injuries, all of it — if you look at the trend of the game, it was all favoring the Hornets heading into the second half. A strong first quarter from both teams gave the Knicks a slight edge, but the Hornets tightened up defensively in the second, and rode into halftime up by four.
Given Charlotte’s strong third quarter play, they were in great position, and with seven minutes to play in the third, they were on the cusp of running away with it. Up 70-57, the Hornets had scored 12 points in the first five minutes of the third. Compared to the rest of the season, it looked like another typical strong quarter. For the remaining seven, however, they would score just four points, while New York poured in 22 to take a 79-74 lead heading into the fourth.
So what happened? Poor offensive decision making, a lack of ball movement, and sloppy play gave New York the inch they needed to comeback and tie the game in a four minute span. Walker would turn the ball over twice in less than 30 seconds, followed by a turnover by Nicolas Batum a minute later. Turnovers can often swing momentum, and New York capitalized by scoring off them. Charlotte committed 13 in the game, but six of them came in the third quarter.
Carmelo Anthony was certainly a factor as well -- his 11 points in the third lead New York’s comeback. But Charlotte responded to Melo’s hot streak by forcing up outside shots early in the shot clock instead of breaking down New York defensively by moving the ball and getting to the hoop. Here’s the team’s third quarter shot chart:
What’s obviously noticeable is that Charlotte made no shots from outside the paint. This is concerning no matter the situation, but many of these shots fell right into what New York wanted. In the first five minutes of the third, Charlotte focused on a lot of screen and roll action, and looked for the roll man cutting to the basket. Cody Zeller benefited from this in the first half, and did so again at the beginning of the second half off a feed from Batum. However, a few turnovers lead to easy buckets on the other end, and Charlotte got caught up in the need to get the points right back by getting up the first shot available. During that seven minute span, Charlotte made just one field goal, a layup by Zeller, and shot just 1-8.
Factored in all of this was the loss of Marvin Williams, who hyper extended his knee just as Charlotte was pushing away. They missed his presence the rest of the game, but I refuse to point to the loss of one player as reason for Charlotte’s poor execution (the exception being Walker). Poor free throw shooting also factored in as well. Charlotte missed three in the third quarter, and they came while still holding the lead.
That said, this is now the second double-digit lead blown by the Hornets in four games. As the Hornets have found ways to come back from large deficits throughout the season, they need to do a better job of holding significant leads. They’ve only won by significant margins twice this season, and have lost a few when holding leads in the second half. If a top four playoff spot is the goal, they’ve got to be able to put teams away when they’re in position to do so.