Jimmy Butler scored 52 points as the Charlotte Hornets dropped a game on the road to the Chicago Bulls, 118-111. Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 34 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists.
The Bulls held a small advantage for most of the first quarter, with Butler leading the way for Chicago with 9 early points. Points were spread between both teams, with all 10 starters scoring in the first. Charlotte tied it at 21 in the closing minutes, but ended the quarter trailing 23-25.
Charlotte started the second on a 10-0 run to take their first lead of the game, with Jeremy Lamb contributing five straight points. It set up a nice stretch of play, in which the Hornets moved the ball well, but more importantly made stops on the defensive end. Nicolas Batum highlighted the quarter, knocking down a crafty and-1 play:
@nicolas88batum somehow manages the three-point play!!! #CHAatCHI #BuzzCity pic.twitter.com/EKRdaIVciO— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) January 3, 2017
Chicago cut into the lead midway through the quarter once Butler re-entered, then two 3-pointers by Denzel Valentine gave them the lead again. Chicago held the lead for the rest of the quarter, but Walker managed to cut the defecit to one by drawing a foul with 0.2 seconds remaining.
Walker picked things up in the third, knocking down a pair of 3’s to give Charlotte the lead again. Most of the third went Charlotte’s way, thanks to better defense and solid offensive play from Walker and Batum. Chicago remained closed though thanks to Butler, who had 35 points entering the fourth.
The scored remained close in the fourth, with Charlotte maintaining a small lead. Then, midway through, Butler took over, tying the game at 100-100, then giving his team the lead soon after. This game Chicago the momentum they needed, and Butler continued to dial in, keeping his team ahead while the Hornets struggled to score on the other end. After going up by five with around 30 seconds remaining, the Bulls put the game away.
It can’t be emphasized just how good Butler was in the fourth. Scoring 17 points in the quarter, he was a one man show that couldn’t be defended, scoring on multiple possessions in a row. It was the type of performance that’s fun to watch as a neutral, but gut-wrenching when it’s against your team. Butler showed again why he’s arguably the best shooting guard in the league, and at the Hornets expense.
While it’s hard to gauge given Butler’s great night, the Hornets did miss Cody Zeller, who was out with a concussion. Chicago out rebounded Charlotte 44-35, and had 14 offensive rebounds.
Ultimately though, poor defense decided the game. Steve Clifford pointed out post game that tonight was the sixth time this season the Hornets had lost entering the fourth quarter with the lead. Tonight, they gave up 36 points in the fourth, which nullified any stretches of good defensive play earlier in the game. If they are to avoid sliding further back into the standings (and avoid a repeat of last January), the defense has to be more consistent.