Six long years.
That's how long it has been since LeBron James last lost to a Charlotte-based basketball franchise. That the streak is finally over is a welcome sight for Charlotte fans everywhere. What makes it more impressive is that it came on a night where, on paper, the Hornets should not have stood a chance.
No Al Jefferson. No Kemba Walker. Where would the points come from without the team's two best offensive players? A hobbled Nicolas Batum. Cody Zeller and Jeremy Lamb returning, but to what degree would they be effective?
So then how? How did the Hornets take down the Cleveland Cavaliers?
1. They just wanted it more
First and foremost, the team outplayed Cleveland for long stretches, particularly in the second half.
The Hornets outrebounded the Cavaliers — one of the best rebounding teams in the Association — by 21(!!!!). Let that settle in. Cleveland, a team that averages 44.5 rebounds a game and features the likes of James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, was held to almost half of that by a group of players that included Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (13 rebounds), Zeller (7) and Frank Kaminsky (6). The Cavaliers average nearly 11 offensive rebounds a game this season. Wednesday night, they had three.
Charlotte held the Cavaliers to just 17 points in the third quarter (one less than Jeremy Lin and Kidd-Gilchrist combined had in said quarter) and 22 points in the fourth, holding Cleveland to 37.5 percent shooting from the floor in the second half after they made 53.5 percent of their shots in the first half. The Cavaliers came into Wednesday night on a five-game winning streak that saw the team score at least 111 points in each game. Charlotte held them to just 97.
It was a defensive performance the likes of which Buzz City has not seen in what feels like ages, and it is no coincidence that Kidd-Gilchrist was involved. On the season, the Hornets are giving up 101.2 points per game. But in the three games since Kidd-Gilchrist's return, the team is giving up just 96 points per contest. The MKG effect is very real, and the Cavaliers felt the full force of it.
The team also played as, well, a team. Charlotte had 26 assists on 39 made field goals — two-thirds of their makes. Their bench outscored Cleveland's, 39 to 18. They outrebounded Cleveland 49 to 28, despite the fact that Kidd-Gilchrist was the only Hornet to grab double-digit rebounds. The team had 14 turnovers, including five in the first quarter, but allowed Cleveland to score just nine points off those turnovers.
The Hornets just wanted it more, and fueled by their fans, improved their home record to 17-8 against one of the best road teams in the NBA.
2. Linsanity returned
Who knows how long it will last, but for at least one night — or just one half — Linsanity returned. Lin was needed in a huge way Wednesday night with Walker out and going against not just the best team in the Eastern Conference, but one of the best guards in the NBA in Kyrie Irving.
In the first half, it did not look promising. The Cavaliers went after Lin early and often with pick and rolls, testing Lin to see if he would be able to slow down Irving. Offensively, Lin tried too hard to make things happen. Repeatedly, he would play iso ball and force shots, looking like anything but himself. He would finish the first half with seven points while shooting 33.3 percent from the floor.
In the second half though, Lin changed. He allowed the game to come to him and looked like the Jeremy Lin that took the NBA by storm years ago. Lin is at his best when he isn't forcing the issue ad plays within the flow of the game, which is exactly what happened in the second half. He exploded coming out of halftime, scoring 11 of his team-high 24 points in the third quarter alone. He shot 71.4 percent from the floor in the second half and took over the role of Walker as the iso ball hero in the fourth quarter, going point-for-point with James at times and putting the nail in the coffin with his layup with just over a minute remaining in the game.
Lin finished the night with 24 points, eight assists and five rebounds in what was arguably his best game as a Charlotte Hornet, and he didn't even need his Super Saiyan mohawk to do it.