The Charlotte Hornets rolled into Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday night looking for a win and a big game from former Indiana Hoosier Cody Zeller. Zeller was announced to considerable applause, but didn't give the Pacers fans in attendance much more to cheer about in the game.
Charlotte got on the board first with two quick buckets from Kemba Walker and Zeller. Pacers rookie Myles Turner managed to score eight points in just four minutes soon after. He dominated Marvin Williams inside and got open jumpers. Luckily, the Hornets regained the lead and never trailed for the rest of the first half.
The main focus for the Hornets was going to be concentrating on eliminating turnovers, which is no easy task against a Pacers team that is particularly proficient in creating them. However, things were bouncing Charlotte's direction. On multiple occasions in the first half, the Hornets were able to compensate for foolish turnovers by creating turnovers nearly immediately afterwards and turning them into points. If you can't stop giving the ball away, it's probably a great idea to go and get it right back and put some points on the board. Still, it's not ideal to commit eight turnovers in the first half alone.
But put points on the board the Hornets did. In the first half, the team started strong running a massive number of ball screens and pick-and-roll combinations with Walker and Zeller, Nicolas Batum and Al Jefferson, or Jeremy Lin and anyone who he managed to vaguely run into or throw the ball at.
The Hornets had killer ball movement early, creating a real buzz with all of their motion and ball movement. The results spoke for themselves as Charlotte managed to assist on 11 of their first 15 baskets. Assists are a little easier to tally when you get easy looks. Walker was able to penetrate and kick the ball out with relative ease; he hit rolling bigs, popping bigs, and corner 3-point shooters with great passes throughout the night.
And hey, 3-pointers? Congratulations to Marvin for setting a new personal best for made 3-pointers in a season. His previous best was 95, a number he cruised past tonight. He's at 99 now. And it was probably a good thing he was finding his range to mitigate his early struggles with defending the physically imposing Turner. Williams wasn't alone, though. The Hornets were hot from three, hitting 11 from deep on 28 attempts.
Williams also set a new career-high for double-doubles in a season. He's now at 10, thanks to a game-high 26 points and 13 rebounds. Joining him in tonight's distinguished double-double club is Walker, who had 22 points and 10 assists.
Big Al found his way onto the court, though not starting, with about four minutes left in the first quarter, which was also around the same time that we got to see other subs making their way into the fray. Those were encouraging minutes from Jefferson and his contributions are going to be huge for the Hornets as the push for the playoffs really heats up.
It's hard to say if it was conditioning, but Big Al really struggled to finish the second half, missing every look he had down the stretch. He finished with nine points in 20 minutes.
Both Lee and Lamb did some good things and a few bad things. Some good transition work and a few good shots from deep, particularly from Lee, were reassuring. Lamb is clearly not playing at the same level he was playing at earlier in the year, but Lee is mostly as advertised. Hopefully that trade deadline move proves to be a win. Lee produced slightly more, but also required a greater volume to achieve that, shooting 3-for-10 and only 1-for-5 from distance.
Batum got worked on defense, but most people who guard Paul George experience that. He also had a team-high five turnovers. Kaminsky was a mixed bag: some bad stuff like an airball and travel, but also great effort on defense. He just couldn't find his long-range accuracy and that hurt him as he scored zero points in 13 minutes. Thankfully, he chalked up three rebounds, a steal, and a block.
Myles Turner bricked a dunk harder than anything I've ever seen in my entire life, by the way.
The Hornets were in control most of the night, though the Pacers made a run in the fourth quarter after Charlotte started 1-for-6 from the field. Luckily, Kemba lost his mind and carried the Hornets to victory with big play after big play. And no play was bigger than this one:
ICYMI: @KembaWalker's game-winning play #CHAatIND pic.twitter.com/ajXk6cns3R— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) February 27, 2016
The Hornets picked up an important road victory on their fifth consecutive road game with one more to go before returning home. Equally big, this win gives Charlotte the tiebreaker over Indiana, should the two teams finish the season with the same record. They can sweep the season series with a win next week, too.
Up next, the Hornets finish their road trip on Sunday in Atlanta in yet another huge, and winnable, game against a team fighting for playoff positioning.