The Charlotte Hornets further cemented their reputation as a strong third quarter team Wednesday night, easily coasting to a 120-101 win against the host Orlando Magic on the strength of a nearly flawless start to the second half that featured a 28-2 run and saw the Hornet’s hold Orlando to 13 points in the quarter.
The Hornets came out aggressive at the start of the game, and seemed to have a visceral chip on their shoulder coming off of a backbreaking, last-second loss against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.
Charlotte’s two headline stars, Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum, set the pace from the beginning, probing the Orlando defense relentlessly. Walker utilized his increasingly devastating change-of-pace penetration game to confuse the Magic defense. After hitting a couple of quick early buckets he seamlessly transitioned into facilitator, dropping two beautiful dimes on the Magic’s help defense. At the end of the first, Walker and Batum each had 7 points, 1 rebound and 2 assists, forming an efficient two-pronged attack that the Magic did not have an answer for.
The Hornets had no problem scoring in the first half, but neither did the Magic. Orlando went bucket-for-bucket with the Hornets as both teams seemed content to focus solely on offense.
Serge Ibaka in particular proved a problem, finishing the half with 20 points. Luckily for Charlotte, Kemba was more than eager to engage in a one on one shoot out, finishing the half with 16 points of his own. Individual scorers have been a persistent problem for this team over the years, and Ibaka’s first half looked like an all too familiar harbinger.
Then the 3rd quarter happened.
The Hornets came out, as they so often do in the 3rd, looking to swing the momentum of the game completely in their favor. The Magic seemed to have a lid on their basket as shot after shot rimmed out. Charlotte did an impressive job of capitalizing on those misses, swarming the defensive glass and quickly transitioning into the fast break.
After subtly building an 11 point lead over the opening few minutes of the quarter, Kemba dished to Marvin Williams for a three pointer to give the Hornets a 14 point lead with 6:39 left in the period.
After that, it got a little hazy, so I’ll just let this Doug Branson tweet sum it up:
If the Hornets score 100 in the 3rd quarter we all get a Papa Johns...an entire store.— Locked On Hornets (@LockedOnHornets) December 29, 2016
The Hornets have a frustrating tendency to play down or up to the level of their competition, and too often fail to deliver that early, knock out blow to opponents when they have the chance. Tonights game was a welcome change to that, as Coach Steve Clifford kept his starters in almost all the way through the third to step on the Magic’s neck. Nic Batum stayed aggressive throughout the aforementioned 28-2 run, finishing the quarter with 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, just shy of getting his second triple double in three games.
At 97-68, the fourth quarter was all garbage time, allowing the Hornet’s starters to earn an entire quarter of well deserved and important rest going into tomorrow night’s back-to-back against the Miami Heat. Hopefully the Hornets can carry over some of the impressive firepower they displayed tonight.