Heading into Friday night's matchup in Detroit, it wasn't clear if we'd get the Charlotte Hornets we've seen in March. Their only pitfall over the last month was a tendency toward slow starts, and as long as they avoided that things should have been okay. Sure, they pulled it off against the San Antonio Spurs, but how many times can you ask the devil to dance before your number comes up?
Well, Charlotte danced again, and the Devil came out on top. After a slow start, the Hornets went on a 7-0 run to pull within two, 12-10, five minutes in. It went mostly downhill from there.
Andre Drummond was getting all kinds of looks at the rim, scoring from the block, getting tip-ins and smashing home alley-oops. And he wasn't even the only Piston feasting in the paint. Point guard Reggie Jackson was an animal, attacking the rim over and over. The Pistons pushed out to a big double-digit lead and held it, ending the first quarter with a 36-24 lead.
Kemba Walker started strong, leading all scorers with 13 points. Batum wasn't so hot, shooting 1-of-5 before hitting consecutive shots later in the second quarter. Marcus Morris led the Pistons with 10 points.
The bench is where the Hornets needed to look to make up the gap. Unfortunately, they looked and found nothing. Midway through the second, the Detroit bench outscored Charlotte 20-8. Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky were all lukewarm at best. Big Al started 1-of-4, scoring just two points and committing two fouls in nine minutes. Lin, coming off a few recent clutch performances, had some ugly shots of his own, including an airball and a frustrating up-and-down turnover, unforced. Lamb missed two free throws and had a layup chased down and blocked to bookend a made 3-pointer.
To their credit, the Hornets did shoot and make a lot of 3-point shots in the first half. Kemba alone was 6-of-8 from behind the arc, and the team as a whole was 10-of-16. At the half, Charlotte still trailed 72-56. And it was only that "close" because Walker nailed a 55-footer at the buzzer to pull the Hornets closer and put him at 25 points in the half.
In the third quarter the game slowed down for both teams, but of course it nearly came to a full stop for Charlotte. The Pistons were able to answer whenever the Hornets pushed and eventually the mental wear became evident. Lin pushed a bad pass for a backcourt turnover. Jefferson turned lazily into a block. Drummond swatted away a bulbous Walker floater. It was not good.
For the Pistons, Drummond continued to have a huge game by making his presence felt on both ends of the court with the blocks, rebounds and ugly free throw attempts. The difference maker in the third was Detroit's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who scored 14 points in the quarter, which the Pistons won 26-20, pushing the lead to 98-76 heading into the fourth quarter.
By the time this game reached the middle of the fourth, it appeared to be well out of reach and you could have just summed up the second half as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Appreciation Night. There wasn't much to say about this one by the time the game ended. We got to see some Spencer Hawes and there was a really nice layup from Jorge Gutierrez down the line, but the starters were on the bench. Resting the starters for the second game of a back-to-back was a good idea. They will be in Milwaukee tomorrow night and can't afford to lose both games.
However, it wasn't over just yet. An unbelievable run to end the game brought Charlotte back from the dead. After a 23-2 run, the Hornets closed the game to within five points with less than 40 seconds to play. The really encouraging part of this run is that it came from Lamb, Troy Daniels, Hawes, Gutierrez, and Tyler Hansbrough. Getting the bench some extended run where they made a contest of it could be very valuable as the playoffs approach and depth will be very important.
The strong play of the bench in the second half seemed to tilt this game on its axis. Detroit's bench was decidedly better in the first half and Kemba was scoring from everywhere. However, in the second half Walker had just four points and it was the Charlotte reserves that put a hurt on the Pistons.
Depsite the 112-105 loss, Charlotte should look to feed off the late momentum when they visit the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that they beat on the road just a little over a month ago.