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Charlotte Hornets beat Chicago Bulls behind Batum’s big game, 103-91

Charlotte rides great defense, Batum triple-double to big win over struggling Bulls.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets looked to cap a strong pre-Christmas start to the season with a home win against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night. And they got one. Here’s how the action happened.

Things looked good for the Hornets early. A quick-witted reaction from Zeller created a steal on the first defensive possession of the game from Charlotte when the Bulls attempted a lazy entry pass to Taj Gibson. A short time later, Kemba Walker knocked down a 3-pointer. It was 7-2 in favor of the Hornets early and it was looking good.

Dwyane Wade was fighting a migraine, but made it into the game early, scoring a few points early, but also picking up two quick fouls, finding his way to the bench a little over four minutes into the game. The game evened out as both teams settled into their offenses. Unfortunately, it was not a good settling in for the home team. Charlotte started by shooting 4-for-5, but then converted on just two of their next 14 shots, going from an early lead to trailing 23-18 with a little over a minute left in the first quarter.

Chicago used a 13-4 to get back in the game and then take the lead, which they held for the rest of the period. It was 26-22 after the first quarter, the Hornets getting their scoring from a variety of sources. Steve Clifford played 10 different guys in the first quarter and only two of them didn’t score – Marco Belinelli and Ramon Sessions. It felt like Clifford rotated Walker to the bench a bit early, with four minutes left in the quarter and got very little out of Sessions in that time. Also, Belinelli, who’s been instrumental to Charlotte of late was last off the bench with Roy Hibbert, seeing just two minutes of action.

Both teams looked pretty awful early, starting a combined 21-for-61 from the field. The Bulls pushed their lead out to 30-22. Then the Hornets started clicking. And they just didn’t stop, pushing a huge run of 15-0 to take the lead 37-30. Their run was a team effort, Sessions led with a huge transition basket, followed by makes from Hibbert, Walker at the line, and Nicolas Batum. There was a lot of Batum in the first half, he finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

It wasn’t all sunshine, Charlotte lost Belinelli to an ankle sprain in the middle of their big run. The injury didn’t appear to be serious and they were fortunate to not need their big bench playmaker to help get back in this game and take back the lead.

The solid contributions they received from the entire roster prevent the team from relying too greatly on any one player, though Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did a lot to carry the team. In addition to Batum’s impressive first half line, MKG added six points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal and three blocks. He didn’t draw Jimmy Butler, but he did guard Butler who was 3-for-8 for eight points and a turnover in the first half. After the rough start to the game, Charlotte outscored the Bulls 26-14 in the second quarter for a 48-40 halftime lead.

At the start of the second half it was announced that Belinelli would not return to the game with a left ankle sprain. The hope was that he wouldn’t be missed and that they injury wouldn’t be severe. Almost immediately, Chicago made it clear that it wasn’t going to be a coasting half for Charlotte. They opened with a 9-0 run, featuring five points from the mostly quiet Butler, to take the lead, 49-48 less than two minutes into the half.

The Hornets used a timeout to get their legs back under them and went on a run of their own, reestablishing their position in the lead. Except, Butler happened. He kept scoring, keeping his team in the game when it looked like he wasn’t going to get any help. The Bulls kept themselves within striking distance, but it was mostly because both teams struggled. Over halfway into the third, both teams were 3-for-10 from deep and Chicago was shooting under 40 percent from the field.

There were a lot of reasons that the Hornets couldn’t pull away despite better shooting and good defense, including the inability to exploit mismatches. Example: With just under eight minutes to play in the third quarter, the Hornets ran a play where they switched off the matchups via screens, etc. and ended up with Rondo off ball, guarding Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG is a great player, but not much of an offensive threat. It is my belief that Charlotte did a very poor job of exploiting the hands-down worst defender on the floor throughout this game.

The Bulls almost made a run, thanks to a couple of 3s from the suddenly hot-shooting Doug McDermott, but they didn’t expensive Frank Kaminsky. Yes, McDermott vs. Kaminsky: The battle that you didn’t know you wanted. Kaminsky had a very solid finish to the third quarter. After a very bad start to the half, Charlotte rebounded, put up a nice 11-3 run and finished the quarter with a 75-67 lead.

In the fourth, Kaminsky had a little more to contribute, but it was going to be on the starters to get back in and lock it down. Thanks to some foul issues for Chicago, Kemba even managed to knock down some free throws on a poor foul by Butler far from the basket with more than seven minutes left in the game. The Hornets were shooting an abysmal 26.7 percent from 3-point range at one point in fourth quarter, but had great defense and Batum. The Hornets set a new season-high for blocks, 13, and got a triple-double from their star guard, his first since March.

The game was fun, but it got really interesting with less 40 seconds left when play setting up looking like HORNS turned into the Robin Lopez Elbow Show, taking out Marvin and Cody at the same time. In the fallout, Gibson was assessed his second technical of the game for the Bulls, causing him to be ejected. After review, the call on Lopez was a Flagrant II foul, resulting in an ejection for a second Chicago big on the same play. After the Hornets knocked down their three free throws, it was 101-89 and all said and done for the Bulls.

Charlotte enters Christmas in first place in the division with a record of 17-13 and an impressive performance in a big home win over the enigmatic Chicago squad, 103-91.