The Charlotte Hornets’ opponents in the first six games of the season have not been Championship-caliber teams. But last night against the Indiana Pacers, Kemba Walker, Spencer Hawes (?!?), and the rest of the Buzz City gang showed why they’re a team to be reckoned with in 2016/17. The Hornets moved to 5-1 on the season with their 122-100 win and sit in second place in the East behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, with their only loss coming to the Boston Celtics on opening night at the Hive.
So what should we take away from that win?
First, head coach Steve Clifford responded to the slow start sickness. We’ve known this for awhile, but when he sees a problem, Clifford steps up and fixes it, and with a fast start against Indiana, he did just that.
Our game trend after the win against the Brooklyn Nets was “slow starts.” It had been the most troubling part of watching the Hornets over the first five games of the season: no matter the opponent, Charlotte would come out slow and allow the other team to build a double-digit lead early on.
Against Indiana, that trend finally stopped. Charlotte came out on fire, putting the game to bed less than six minutes into the first quarter by building a 15 point lead.
27 points and we are not halfway into the first quarter. WHAT IS GOING ON.#BuzzCity— Russell Varner (@rvarner) November 8, 2016
Up 27-12 less than five minutes into the game, the Hornets came out to that fast start we had all been missing in the first five games, and they’d never relinquish the lead. They scored on 12 straight possessions to start the game, eventually building their lead to 43-22 with two minutes left to play in the first quarter. They’d build a bigger lead than 21 in the fourth quarter, but unlike every other game this season, the lead was ours and no comeback was needed.
The Hornets actually came close to franchise record-breaking territory too. The 43 points in the first quarter was one point off a record, and 75 in the first half (75!?!?) tied the franchise record set twice in 1993. I mean, that’s a really, really fast start.
To our second key point... a big part of that first quarter? Ungodly play from Kemba Walker, the God.
Kemba Walker's dimes are . https://t.co/QLtT7y4YcJ— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 8, 2016
Whether you want to call them dimes or dishes, Kemba Walker’s passes have been other-worldly early in October and November. He wasn’t “player of the game” tonight on the Spectrum Center scoreboard (we’ll get to that), but that’s solely because Clifford cut his minutes once the game was out of reach. His most impressive numbers for the night:
25 minutes, 24 points, 10 assists, 5-of-6 from 3, and +21 on the court. That’s... good.
He also hit 20 points for the 5th straight game. He’s the core of our team, and he’s going to earn that All-Star nod if he keeps it up. Win With Walker.
.@KembaWalker is absolutely playing on another level. Upped his shooting last year, his vision and passing have jumped this year. Amazing.— HornetsGIFs (@HornetsGIFs) November 8, 2016
Finally, for our last key point, this Hornets team is deep. Once the team went up early, and once MKG suffered a hopefully-minor injury that relegated him to the bench, Clifford let the second-string do their thing.
Like most of you, I was worried after losing Jeremy Lin and Big Al in the offseason (and then losing Roy Hibbert and Jeremy Lamb to early-season injuries) that a huge strength of the 2015-16 team, our depth, would be absent this season. Last night proved that’s not the case.
Marco Belinelli looked good in his 27 minutes, scoring 12 points and making some crazy passes. Ramon Sessions scored 10 in his 21 minutes. And Frank Kaminsky had an off-night shooting, putting in 11 in his 30 minutes, but played well off the ball, making good passes and finding open teammates.
But the star of the show and the Spectrum Center’s Player of the Game was Spencer Hawes. Yes, that says Spencer Hawes. In 22 minutes of action, Spencer scored 13 points and pulled down 13 rebounds, earning his first double-double since January 22 at Orlando. Whenever the big man with the man bun scores from deep, the Hive goes wild, and he earned it on Monday night, playing as the anchor of the team in the bench-testing fourth quarter.
Clifford rested the starters because he could, because our depth was enough to maintain a 20-point lead over a playoff-bubble Pacers team (over the summer, ESPN put them in 5th, ahead of Charlotte). That’s something to get excited about.
Fast starts. Kemba the God. A deep, quality bench.
Sounds good to me. It was a great game on Monday night, but big tests are coming in the next few weeks, as the competition-level increases with games against Utah, Toronto, and Cleveland all in the next few days.
OK, let’s find out about Charlotte. pic.twitter.com/nWwI45sVJb— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) November 8, 2016
Still, a record-setting 5-1 mark to start the season, and that kind of performance on Election Eve? Thanks for the positive distraction from politics, Kemba and company. Now let’s keep it up through November.
This #Hornets team is skilled, defensive-minded and incredibly balanced.— Chris Kroeger (@Kroeger) November 8, 2016
5-1 for the first time in franchise history is pretty impressive.