Teams don't come back to win games after only scoring seven points in the first quarter -- the last team to do it was the Utah Jazz, in 2008 -- yet the Charlotte Hornets did just that, against the San Antonio Spurs no less. When we rank this win with the others it won't have quite the amount of importance as the win over the Miami Heat on the road, but it's arguably their biggest win of the season (hell, and maybe last season too).
Charlotte's first quarter was arguably the worst in NBA history. Shooting just 3-19 from the field, many of their shots came up short, and the offense looked sluggish, much like it did on Saturday against Denver. Despite the strength of their opponent, Charlotte's poor start had me increasingly worried that Saturday's poor performance was not an outlier but the beginning of an un-explainable funk forming at the wrong time.
It was clear however, that San Antonio was determined not to let Kemba Walker beat them. Their gameplan worked, as Walker finished with just six points on 2-11 shooting (Stephen Curry sends his regards). Another, less noticeable, note -- Marvin Williams also struggled to find his shooting form, at least in the first quarter, which had compounded effects on the Hornets offense. Williams' ability to knock down shots forces defenses to defend harder on the perimeter. Williams uses that to open up shots for others, particularly off of drives and kicks. With Walker and Williams contained, the rest of the roster struggled to even hit the rim. After one quarter, the Hornets were sunk.
Then Jeremy Lin happened. His scoring hasn't been on since the All-Star break, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been contributing to the team's success in more subtle ways. There was nothing subtle about his performance Monday however, as his 29 points on 11-18 shooting (4-4 from the 3-point line), and seven rebounds resulted in his best performance since the Hornets beat the Cavaliers on the road, and arguably his best game this season.
Last night's performance might have been bigger though. The Hornets needed someone to take charge from a scoring standpoint. Courtney Lee scored 13 of his 17 points in the 3rd quarter, which helped start the initial run. Lin however, made a number of big-time shots, including this one to take the lead for the first time.
Lin took what the defense game him all night. He made a number of tough pull-up, fadeaway jumpshots, and attacked the rim relentlessly. In a season in which Lin hasn't shot the ball consistently well, last night showed that he is still capable of big scoring nights. With 12 games remaining, it's the perfect time for him to get into good form with the playoffs near.
Some other notes:
- We can't completely forget about the seven point 1st quarter, even with the win. It was horrible, even by Bobcats standards. The Hornets never had this bad a quarter with Lance Stephenson in the lineup. It would be easy to write off given the win, but it marks two poor first quarters in a row now. It's a bit obvious, but the Hornets generally play better when they have a strong first quarter. Players get into a rhythm, and with a lead they can dial it up on defense. Essentially, a good first quarter lets them dictate how the game is played. Yes, the Hornets have shown they can come back from large deficits, but it's so much easier and less stressful for everyone to take care of their business early.
- The first quarter stunk, but the 4th quarter defense continued to be great. Charlotte held San Antonio to only 16 points in the fourth quarter, and their defense the final few possessions of the game was fantastic. On Danny Green's potential game-tying 3-pointer with seconds remaining, Lin's close out was executed as well as it could have been without fouling.
- Monday's win was important given the remaining schedule -- Charlotte plays 9 of their remaining 12 games on the road, and four in a row coming up.