The Charlotte Hornets have been in a rut over the course of their last few games, losing often, but led by some great play from Cody Zeller and the bench, they emerged victorious over the Atlanta Hawks for the second time this season.
It was a game of runs early, both games going on spurts. The Hornets pulled ahead in the second quarter before another rough third quarter. Playing the second game of a back-to-back, the dreaded road SEGABABA, there were plenty of signs that pointed to a Charlotte collapse.
Fortunately, the Hornets have a Belinelli – Marco Belinelli. Imagine I typed that the same way Stephanie Ready says it during broadcasts.
The focus is Belinelli because all of the good work the team did, spurts of Frank Kaminsky doing good things like making shots were smattered with bad things like traveling when he had his defender beat in the post. However, it did give me some time to ponder a new Kaminsky nickname that is holiday appropriate: Frank Kaminsky and the Kenosha Kickers, or simply the Kenosha Kicker. If you don’t get this reference, it’s because you don’t know that Wisconsin exists and you’ve never seen Home Alone.
The team also stayed true to running smart screens. Screens that allowed the screener to slink back to the 3-point line if Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap were patrolling the paint. As soon as they put Howard on the bench for some rest, the screen turned into rim runs. It felt like there were a dozen Zeller rim runs that ended in slams. Of course, it was only a few times, but still very effective whenever they could get Zeller on the floor without Howard.
Back to Belinelli. The reason that the focus is on Belinelli is because he came up huge over a very specific timeframe in the fourth quarter that helped Charlotte secure a much-needed win. For the game, Marco shot 8-for-11 from the field. That’s some hot shooting off the bench.
The bench was the big question mark heading into the season when NBA writers were hesitant to predict a Hornets repeat because of, well, the bench. With Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee gone, plus questions about the consistency of Jeremy Lamb, someone had to step in and buoy the offense while Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum rested.
On Saturday night, it was all Belinelli. He scored 19 points and had a team-best plus-minus of +15 for the game. He also came up with one assist, and it was during that important fourth quarter stretch.
Head coach Steve Clifford elected to play Marco for the first 11:32 of the fourth quarter. So basically, he played the entire quarter until the victory was just about locked up. The call was partially risky, Belinelli had played the final four minutes of the third quarter with zero shots, a defensive rebound and a turnover. Not great numbers.
It was all different in the fourth. At the 7:40 mark Clifford went with a lineup of Belinelli, Zeller, Lamb, Walker and Marvin Williams. That lineup played together until the 5:46 mark when Batum returned in place of Lamb. That lineup went on a 6-0 run and was +6 during that pivotal moment when it looked like the Hawks were going to steal the game. Both the 6-0 run and the +6 could be attributed to a pair of Belinelli 3s. In all, he shot 3-for-3 from deep in the fourth, extending his body and contorting while still knocking down big-time shots.
As the Hornets closed out the game on an 11-2 run, Belinelli knocked down another 3 with just over three minutes left. He added a rebound and an assist shortly after that, while also electing to not heat check from some seriously deep Steph Curry-type range.
Belinelli knew the play the hand he was dealt, just like Clifford did an excellent job of playing his hand in the fourth quarter on Saturday night.