The Charlotte Hornets made a trip to Texas to play the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night. As if a road trip to play Houston wasn’t already enough of a challenge, the Hornets were still without Cody Zeller and had to also make do without star wing Nicolas Batum.
It was all James Harden and the Rockets early. Harden dropped an assist on an Ariza 3-pointer, then knocked down his own. Their aggressive approach at the 3-point line was rewarded early and Charlotte just didn’t have any early answers. It was 10-0 very quickly and Steve Clifford burned a timeout just two minutes into the game.
With Batum out, Jeremy Lamb was called on. He answered the call with seven points in the first quarter, making sure the route wasn’t on. Unfortunately, Lamb also picked up a few personal fouls and was forced to sit just five minutes into the game, enter Belinelli. Hibbert also picked up a couple of fouls and found his way to the bench in favor of Spencer Hawes.
It was an impressive bounce back from Charlotte after trailing early. They pulled within one point, thanks in part to a couple of clutch 3-pointers from Marvin Williams and finished the quarter trailing 32-26. It’s also fun to watch Wisconsin Badger teammates Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky share the court.
The second quarter featured plenty of Kaminsky vs. Dekker if you’re into that kind of thing. Kaminsky got up to seven points and even took a charge from his old Badger teammate. The lead was around 10 points for most of the second quarter. It was an ugly, plodding quarter that both sides seemed to just be trying to plough through. Until Houston just ploughed through the Hornets.
It was a 10-point lead for Houston when Harden dropped in a layup, making it 55-43. Then a Kemba Walker turnover turned into a Rockets alley oop. Charlotte missed a 3, Harden made a 3. Kemba missed a layup, Ryan Anderson hits another Houston 3. Lamb misses a jumper; Patrick Beverly is fouled and knocks down both free throws. Suddenly it was 65-43, Houston.
Harden finished the first half with 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Zeller and Batum were sorely missed, but the Rockets were daring anyone other than Walker to be them and no one could do it. Lamb led the Hornets with nine points at the half to go with two rebounds and two assists.
The third quarter look much better from Charlotte early on, they got out to a 15-8 advantage in the quarter, thanks to the team playing more the Hornets team we like to see. Kemba was aggressive, knocking down shots, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was playing hard and tipping offensive rebounds, Marvin knocked down a 3-pointer. It was looking pretty good.
One thing that the Rockets did repeatedly that was an issue for Charlotte, they blitzed doubles/traps on Kemba and did it in such a way that the open men they were sacrificing was Kidd-Gilchrist, which is smart. When the Hornets started recognizing that more, they began cutting into the huge Houston lead.
There was some fun motion from Charlotte that hit Belinelli who was able to pick out Hawes for a rim-rolling make a few times. It looked good and Hawes was actually having a great game for a while.
By the time this game got into the fourth quarter, it was back to an ugly 20-point lead. Despite both teams making a fairly even number of shots – 34 made for Houston and 33 for Charlotte – the game was still mostly out of hand because of the disparity in free throws. Houston wasn’t shooting a high percentage at the line, but they were shooting a high volume. With the score 108-90 with eight minutes to play, the Rockets had taken 28 free throws and made 20. The Hornets were 7-for-8.
Charlotte got a strong scoring effort from the bench. Belinelli had 12 points, Hawes had 16, and Frank Kaminsky had 19 with 4:38 to play. The 3-pointer Kaminsky hit to get him to 19 points on the game made it 110-101. Not to be outdone, Marco dropped a 3-pointer to get to 15 points for the game, part of an 11-0 scoring run that made it 110-106.
Almost unbelievably, it wasn’t over. Not even close. The Hornets continued their run and thanks to more great scoring from Kemba and Frank, they dramatically took the lead, 111-110. And then Harden finally found his triple-double that he had been hunting for a significant portion of the fourth quarter when he notched an assist on a 3-point that put the Rockets back into the lead. Charlotte never recovered.
There were a few controversial calls in each direction and then a foul-hunting 3-pointer from Kaminsky that neither connected or drew a whistle. When everything seemed to come up short for the Hornets, Houston came up big at the free throw line. It was a fitting way to finish the game for both teams, the Rockets dominated at the line all night and it ended up making all the difference in this one.