Walking into the Staples Center Sunday night marked the beginning of the end for a four-game, seven-day road trip for the Charlotte Hornets. Sunday's match-up also marked the first remarkable effort from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist since his return from injury.
In a way, MKG's play was unprecedented in Charlotte's 101-82 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
It ended up being a sloppy first quarter by the time the buzzer rang but Charlotte was able to get off to a quick start. Despite dropping their last two games entering the night, the Hornets weren't straying from the passing that keyed their early season success. The ball wasn't sticking and it was being spun like Steve Clifford preached it should be. With the rock skipping from side to side, Charlotte hit two three-pointers on their way to a seven to nothing start.
One of the three-pointers came from Kidd-Gilchrist. The 22-year old famously attempted zero treys last season. He made his first attempt from outside the arc Sunday night in LA, cashing in his first three-point make of the year. Six early points from MKG helped Charlotte earn an early 14-10 lead.
It was a game of runs early on with each team obtaining a pair of successful stretches in the first quarter. The seven nothing Charlotte run began the game but a 10 to two LA run followed, giving the Lakers their first lead of the game. Just seconds later, on the next Hornets possession, Charlotte retook the lead and started a 10 nothing run of their own. The Lakers scored the last six points of the quarter but they were still down 21-16 as the sloppy period came to an end.
Jeremy Lin began another quick Hornets run in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Lin was making several key and correct decisions in Charlotte's pick-and-roll scenarios on offense, leading to buckets and foul shot opportunities. A Lin three-pointer a little over three minutes into the second quarter gave Charlotte a 10-point lead.
The Lakers wouldn't go away though. Kidd-Gilchrist started the night on Kobe Bryant but when MKG needed rest while he returns to game shape, P.J. Hairston was tasked with guarding the Black Mamba. Hairston was allowing the veteran to shoot. And unlike most of the season, Bryant's shots were going in. Bryant's 11 second quarter points weren't threatening Charlotte's lead but they were keeping Los Angeles from getting run out of their own building.
Kidd-Gilchrist's second three-pointer of the night combined with a Marvin Williams deep make put Charlotte up by 15 points late in the second quarter. Eleven three-point field goals and a 20-6 bench scoring advantage helped Charlotte take a 58-43 lead into the break.
Things looked bleak for LA as the teams walked through the depths of the Staples Center for halftime. They didn't get any better as the Lakers were thrown heavy amounts of boos as the third quarter wrapped and they wandered to their bench. Two Hornets earned double-doubles during the third quarter. Midway through the period, Williams grabbed a rebound to give him his eighth double-double of the season. With just a couple minutes remaining in the quarter, a board gave Kidd-Gilchrist his first double-double of the year in just his second game back. A 14-2 run over the final four minutes of the third, with rookie Frank Kaminsky producing two baskets during the stretch, helped give Charlotte a 23-point lead, their largest of the game, entering the fourth quarter.
The Lakers never threatened the Hornets lead during the final period of play as dribble penetration and stellar Charlotte pick-and-roll play continued to plague LA. Kidd-Gilchrist and Williams tallied identical 19-point, 12-rebound performances and Kaminsky contributed 11 points in bench duty.
After splitting their four-game road trip, Charlotte will now receive a few days of rest before the Cleveland Cavaliers arrive at the Hive for Wednesday night's tilt.