The Dallas Mavericks, hanging tight with Charlotte throughout the second half, closed to within three points with a minute to go. After the Hornets squandered a fourth-quarter lead against the Minnesota Timberwolves in similar fashion, this game was on the precipice of falling the same way.
With 13 seconds remaining, Kemba Walker funneled a pass to Jeremy Lamb, who launched a three from a few steps behind the line. The shot went down, the Hornets went up six, and the game was safely out of reach. Crisis averted. The Hornets pulled out the 109-101 victory, a win that lifted them to 12-9 and a 4th place standing in the Eastern Conference.
The problem is that the crisis lasted much longer than it should have against an inferior foe. Dallas entered the game at 4-15, last in the Western Conference. But the Hornets let them hang around, in big part due to their lack of shots from long-range. The Charlotte Hornets attempted only 18 three-pointers, and made a paltry three - all by bench players. Kemba Walker shot 0-2 from deep, Nic Batum 0-6, and the supposed stretch-frontcourt 0-3.
The Hornets could not hit from long range, and so they eventually stopped taking three-pointers altogether. Jeremy Lamb shot a pair of triples in the final minute, making the second to put the game away. No other Hornet took a shot from deep in the fourth quarter.
The lack of a deep threat tightened the Dallas defense, choking lanes that Kemba Walker is used to driving into. While the offense still fought their way to 109 points, that was a result of some remarkable shot-making by Walker and tough fighting inside on the offensive glass.
The Mavericks suffered from no such aversion to the three-point shot, hitting 13 of their 36 shots for a 36.1 percent conversion rate. The Hornets hit just 16.7 percent of their limited attempts. Charlotte was tremendous at the foul line, attempting 10 more shots and making 12 more (92.9 percent overall), but even that +12 at the line didn’t compare to the +30 Dallas enjoyed from behind the arc.
This isn’t a consistent issue; the Hornets hit 14 of their 36 shots (38.9 percent) from deep against the Timberwolves Saturday, and for the season they are 10th in the league in percentage of shots from distance (27.9). Monday night Charlotte was playing a foe weak enough to go away from the arc on offense, and they excelled in other areas to gut out the win.
But the NBA is a shooter’s league, and to keep pace with a team such as the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs Charlotte needs to figure out how to find shots when the shoots aren’t falling. Kemba Walker is brilliant enough to generate points inside the arc amidst a mass of defenders, but that is not efficient basketball.
The Hornets have the personnel to be a strong team at the perimeter, and the return of Marvin Williams as the starting stretch-4 will help with that. But giving up on the three-pointer in today’s NBA caps a team’s offensive ceiling. In a Conference with LeBron James the Hornets need that ceiling as lofty as possible.