The magic number is one.
The Charlotte Hornets said all the right things before the game about not underestimating Philadelphia and the 76ers must have heard them. Both teams came out shooting poorly from distance, combining to start 1-for-8 from 3-point range. Kemba Walker made it clear that he wasn't going to start off cold, however, attacking the rim early and often scoring the first 4 points of the game for the Hornets.
The two teams traded baskets before Hornets went on a 7-0 run, establishing a small lead that they would carry the rest of the game. Charlotte was unable to pull away despite another strong showing on the perimeter defensively. Philadelphia looked very organized and when their shooters weren't able to find open looks, they started attacking the lane and putting up a lot of high-percentage looks that kept going in and kept them in the game throughout the first quarter.
While the rest of the starting group seemed to get a slow beginning - some good but not great from Courtney Lee, Marvin Williams and Nicolas Batum - the bench immediately roared to life. Zeller had been the glue guy first the first unit, scoring, rebounding, an assist, a steal and a block, but the second unit picked it up as a whole. Jeremy Lin grabbed a steal and converted that into a layup, Al Jefferson found his way in for a big slam dunk. It was a sign of things to come for the Hornets who were deadlocked 25-25 at the end of the first quarter. Oh, and Lin's fantastic no look circus shot for the and-one.
The Hornets saw an opportunity and tried to work the Al Jefferson-Elton Brand matchup and did over and over. Jefferson put up nine point in not a lot of time by exploiting great entry passes over the top that also stayed out of reach of the crashing help defender sent by the Sixers. Lin kept mixing in shots and taking care of the ball, looking like the Lin that played the Spurs and Bucks more than the Lin who played the Pistons.
Jeremy Lamb showed some signs of life, highlighted by an acrobatic and-one layup and Frank Kaminsky went on a tear, scoring six points and grabbing five rebounds in his first few minutes on the court. A quick Kaminsky dunk into a Kaminsky 3-point make got the crowd and the Hornets into the game. The Hornets used an 8-0 run early in the quarter to come from behind and take the lead and then opened the lead by turning in a 13-3 run. The Hornets just kept making shots, nine in a row at one point from Lin, Kaminsky, Batum, Zeller. It was a real group effort and they rolled into the half with a 59-50 lead.
After halftime, the formerly hot Stauskas cooled off for the Sixers and Nicolas Batum started to find a few more baskets. Stauskas was getting better looks in the third quarter, but he failed to convert his chances. That was all the Hornets needed to run the score up, getting out to a 16-point lead that was highlighted by a Kemba 3-pointer and an ultra dunk courtesy of Marvin Williams. By this point in the game, the Hornets were rolling and they lead never extended further, but stayed in double digits until the end of the quarter, 81-66 in favor of the home team.
The fourth quarter was shaping up to be a simple run out after a slowed down third quarter, the lowest scoring quarter of the game, where the Hornets had extended their lead. However, the Philly squad that wouldn't die in the first half came out strong in the fourth quarter and closed the gap on a 17-6 run that put them within four points.
Then the Hornets exploded for one last scoring surge to put everything out of reach. Out of a timeout the Hornets go on a blazing 10-0 run and put the game permanently out of reach, punctuated by a Kemba 3-point make.
The Hornets hit the magic number of 100 points and picked up a huge win in a game that they couldn't afford to be caught sleeping. With just seven games to play, the Hornets need a single win or Bulls loss to lock in a playoff spot and the remainder of games to jostle for positioning. Hopefully, Batum's 3-point shooting woes won't linger, but the strong performance of the bench sticks around for the playoff run.