One of the best years in franchise history came to a close Wednesday night at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Charlotte Hornets defeated the Orlando Magic, 117-103, to close the 82-game 2015-2016 season. With the win and a bizarre night in the Eastern Conference, Charlotte will begin the 2016 NBA Playoffs as the sixth seed, facing the Miami Heat in the first round.
A hot-shooting first quarter opened up Charlotte's lead. Courtney Lee knocked down two shots from the mid-range in the early going but the Hornets did most of their damage from outside the arc. The team made five of their first nine 3-point attempts, making 50 percent of their deep tries at the end of the quarter. Jeremy Lin and Marvin Williams both hit two 3-pointers as Charlotte's lead approached 20 early on Wednesday night.
The second quarter showed off Charlotte's depth as they were led by selfless sixth man, Al Jefferson. "I got my legs back under me, man," Jefferson said after scoring 15 points in the first half. "My knee feels great." Jefferson connected on seven of his first eight shots from the field.
Before halftime, Troy Daniels continued his productive stretch to end the year. The third-year guard accounted for three of Charlotte's nine first half 3-pointers as he finished with 11 points as the Hornets entered the break. Daniels has contributed 10+ points in three of the last four games.
To open the second half, Steve Clifford kept the bench unit on the floor. Jeremy Lin started the game for an injured Nicolas Batum but Lin was joined by a group of his bench mates in the third quarter. Jefferson produced six of the Hornets' first nine third quarter points.
Clifford continued to ride the bench deep into the third period of play, subbing reserve guards Jorge Gutierrez and Aaron Harrison into the game. The bench unit was outscored by Orlando in the quarter, quickly reducing Charlotte's lead to single digits. After a trip to the line from the Magic's Aaron Gordon to end the quarter, Charlotte entered Wednesday's final 12 minutes with a seven-point lead.
The bench brigade again took the floor to start the fourth quarter. Maybe Clifford wanted to lose this game to earn the sixth seed while scoreboard watching, maybe he wanted his bench guys to get some run in case they're needed in the playoffs while also getting his starters some rest. Maybe he wanted both.
Regardless, the bench continued to slowly give up the large lead Charlotte had built. Once up by 22, the Hornets' lead was trimmed to just two early on in the fourth quarter. The home team went the entire first half without committing a turnover. They opened the final period with back-to-back mistakes.
Yet, this bench was resilient. Orlando never took the lead and these reserves were able to rebuild a double-digit lead. The Hornets third team of Gutierrez, Daniels, Harrison, plus big men Spencer Hawes and Tyler Hansbrough, were not only hanging with Orlando's starters in a fourth quarter, but they turned an understandable loss into an exciting win.
Jefferson led the way with 26 points while Daniels, Hawes and Jeremy Lamb all finished in double-figures.