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Game Trend: Charlotte Hornets fumble the game away in second half

The Hornets were unusually careless with the ball and ended up on the wrong end of a huge third quarter.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets played an ugly game with a thrilling finish in a 109-106 loss to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

With 6:18 left in the third quarter, Kemba Walker lazily rolled off a half-hearted Cody Zeller screen. As Walker rolled to the left of Zeller, John Wall reached around Walker and pushed the ball free to teammate Kelly Oubre, Jr., before receiving a return pass for an easy transition basket off to draw the Wizards within a single basket.

Steve Clifford called a timeout. Charlotte stood at 12 turnovers for the game.

With 5:34 left in the third quarter, Nicolas Batum rolled off another Zeller screen at the top of the key. As Batum rolled to the left, he left his defender behind, but ran directly into a double-team of Marcin Gortat and Wall. The ball was knocked loose, Wall raced back down the court, dished to Oubre, Jr., and Kelly finished the play. Wizards went from trailing 54-49 at the start of the quarter to leading 70-67 just over midway through. Again, benefitting from a Hornets turnover.

With 3:34 left in the third quarter, Nicolas Batum rolled off another Zeller screen late in the shot clock, dished to a nearby Frank Kaminsky, who then moved the ball a few feet over to Marc Belinelli, standing in the corner. Belinelli drew a Wall defensive coverage, used a pump fake to get back and drive baseline toward the rim only for Wall to somehow knock the ball free from behind again. Wall got the ball back in transition, raced the length of the floor, dished to Otto Porter for a layup at the rim and a 79-71 lead for Washington.

With 11:10 left in the fourth quarter, Ramon Sessions tipped a terrible Jason Smith pass, resulting in a steal for Charlotte. The loose ball was grabbed by Kaminsky who turned and began lumbering up court. Then Smith, hustling back after his own errant pass, caught Frank and poked the ball loose, sending Kaminsky clattering to the floor in defeat. That was the fifteenth turnover of the game for the Hornets. Fortunately, the results scoring chance for the Wizards was a miss.

The point is clear – the Hornets failed to take care of the ball and it cost them.

It’s no secret that Clifford demands his team take care of the ball. And the statistics bear that out. Charlotte ranks 2nd in the entire league, committing just 11.8 turnovers per game. Well, that was before Wednesday night.

A few days ago, I looked at the game trend of a particularly strong third quarter. We discovered that the Hornets are one of the best teams in the entire league in the third quarter, their plus-minus margin was approaching 20 points, they were at the top of the standings in both defensive and total rebounds, and they had improved 3-point shooting during the third period.

That is certainly not how it worked out in the District of Columbia. Washington outscored the Hornets 38-23 in the third, doing a lot of damage off turnovers. The Hornets committed seven turnovers in the third quarter alone and were on the losing end of a 17-3 run during the stretch was the examples of turnovers I used transpired.

This isn’t consistent behavior from Charlotte, as noted by their generally great care with the ball, but it cost them over and over on Wednesday. The turnovers erased a great first quarter in which the Hornets put up 30 points on 66.7 percent shooting and 4-for-4 at the free throw line. Charlotte, who were 7-4 when leading at halftime going into this game, erased their own lead.

Wall had himself a game, grabbing 10 assists and seven steals, which glossed over his gaudy eight turnovers. Smith, who robbed Kaminsky in the example used earlier, finished with three steals of his own.

For the game, Charlotte committed a whopping 18 turnovers, 6.2 about their season average. In a game that was decided by a single possession at the end, you could take any of the examples used above as a place where the Hornets would normally take care of the ball and produce a great look. Instead, they were Wall transition possessions and high-percentage looks for the Wizards.

As a Walker 3-point attempt rattled in and down, then out, sealing the loss for Charlotte, it was clear that turnovers were the biggest problem of the night. The takeaway from this difficult and ugly loss is that it happened primarily because of a statistical outlier in the turnover category.

The game slipped away during the second half, just like the ball did over and over again.