The Charlotte Hornets are one of the strongest third quarter teams in the NBA, ranking fourth in average points scored at 27.7. It’s why they’ve managed to overcome double digit deficits, and pull away from close games. As the first half of last night’s 110-94 loss to the Indiana Pacers went on, the Hornets remained close, despite looking outmatched for most of it.
Still, they’d been in this position before, so it wouldn’t have been that ridiculous to suggest the game was going according to script. Entering halftime trailing 43-45, a win was on the table for Charlotte if they could put together the kind of quarter they’d come to be known for.
And hey, they did just that, scoring 30 points, going 7-17 from the field, and making 10 free throws, all of which was enough for them to be trailing by three entering the fourth quarter. If you’re thinking things didn’t go according to script, you’d actually be wrong for the most part.
Indiana matched Charlotte at their own game, in part because it’s a strength of theirs as well. The Pacers rank third in average points scored for the third quarter at 27.8, just a tenth of a point higher than Charlotte. Given this, it’s fitting they outscored the Hornets by a point, 31-30.
That said, the Hornets had their chances. After trailing by one for nearly two minutes, Marvin Williams knocked down a 3-pointer to give Charlotte a 58-56 lead. Indiana kept it at a one possession game until Nicolas Batum knocked down a 3-pointer to put Charlotte ahead 66-62.
This was an important point in the game. One stop on the other end could have opened things up, as Batum knocked another 3-pointer the next possession down, but Myles Turner had answered with a 3 of his own in between. Failing to expand their lead further, the Hornets conceded the lead a few times in the ensuing minutes later, and after C.J. Miles knocked down a 3 with 1:59 remaining, they wouldn’t get it back the rest of the game. Notice a trend here?
The lack of stops, particularly those from beyond the arc, pointed to the biggest issue of the night — 3-point shooting allowed. Indiana knocked down 17 in the game, and six in the third quarter. While Charlotte has been good throughout the season at limiting perimeter shots — they were 6th best in opponent 3-point shooting before last night — it pointed to their inability to make enough stops throughout the game.
The lack of stops proved fatal in the early minutes of the fourth. With Charlotte running with a full bench unit, Indiana went on a 6-0 run, and found themselves quickly down by nine with 10 minutes to go. While no where close to insurmountable lead, it put the Hornets in a tough spot they could have avoided had they made the needed defensive stops in the previous quarter. And that is where things actually didn’t go according to script. Not only does Charlotte typically score a lot in the third quarter, they’re also good on the defensive side, allowing an average of just 23 points. Giving up 31 in the third was a bit uncharacteristic.
While Indiana technically scores more points than Charlotte in the third quarter, they aren’t the better third quarter team. The Hornets have combined good offense and defense during most of these quarters this season, and 25 games into the season its fair to call it a legitimate part of their identity. Last night, however, it they only showed up on one side of the ball.
Hopefully this performance is an outlier rather than the start of trend, but the team hasn’t looked great in the first two games of their current road trip. The shooting percentages are down, Kemba Walker is playing with a knee contusion, and Frank Kaminsky is increasingly becoming a liability on both ends. These are footnotes for now, but they could add up to something worse in the coming days or weeks.
That said, the Hornets tend to revert back to what they do well after going through stretches of bad play, suggesting they should continue to be the strong third quarter team we’ve come to watch so far sooner than later.