It was a valiant effort on the Charlotte Hornets part as they traded blows with the league’s leader in the Golden State Warriors. With 5:52 left in the game, the Hornets had a 3-point lead heading into a timeout after which Kevin Durant was slated to take two free throws.
The Warriors returned to the court with Draymond Green in James Michael McAdoo’s place and seized the night with a 22-7 run.
A certain form of the Death Lineup had been constructed — Shaun Livingston was still in the game in the place of Klay Thompson — and that unit took care of business.
Switches on almost every possible action made it difficult for Charlotte to get a quality look. In such times you just have to turn to some individual efforts, however, that also means going up against good defenders.
Facing a dying shot clock, Nicolas Batum attempted to attack Andre Iguodala in isolation and was stripped:
Golden State’s collective ability of making plays with quick hands then also manifested in a couple of poke-aways by Draymond Green on two straight possessions.
All of that might have been enough to overcome a lesser team, but this particular opponent has the luxury of Kevin Durant making fadeaway jumpers.
No matter how well Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could have guarded that play, the Hornets probably aren’t coming away from it with a strip of their own.
When the game had to be closed out, it was as simple as the difference between what the Hornets could put on the court and the Death Lineup.
More thoughts on how we actually got there...
Some other observations:
The Warriors were quite the unwieldy matchup for Charlotte’s bench unit.
As with the starters down the stretch — when their task got harder by the Death Lineup being formed — producing against a switch-heavy Warriors unit was difficult for the reserves. With only one capable driver in Ramon Sessions, it’s hard to create openings against a team which switches assignments so seamlessly.
Just take a look at these two straight offensive possessions of absolutely nothing:
The mobile McAdoo and Green playing the big positions against the slower Hawes and Kaminsky didn’t help matters either. Both of them don’t have the big man skills to constantly exploit mismatches when being left against smaller players.
As a result, the four-man unit of Ramon Sessions, Marco Belinelli, Frank Kaminsky and Spencer Hawes registered a plus/minus of -13 in the nine minutes they played together. Moreover, the bench’s overall output would have been even worse hadn’t Belinelli masterfully earned two straight fouls on 3-point attempts and scored seven points in a row.
In contrast, Charlotte’s four main cogs in Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams were +1 in the 25 minutes they played together. Thus you can say that the Hornets starters essentially even outplayed the Warriors main group.
That makes you wonder what the end result would have been like had Cody Zeller or Jeremy Lamb been healthy.
It’s easy to point at the open 3-pointers Stephen Curry got in the pick-and-roll against Roy Hibbert and blame coach Steve Clifford for not going smaller from the opening tip.
In a way, you can’t even blame Hibbert for giving up these 3-pointers. He is put in a position where his lack of speed is bound to put Charlotte in trouble.
However, you probably couldn’t have gone the whole 48 minutes with a shortened rotation and without Hibbert getting any playing time. Matching his minutes with Zaza Pachulia isn’t a bad idea.
What were Charlotte’s options for an adjusted rotation?
One could suggest Spencer Hawes starting and playing against Pachulia, Kaminsky playing as the sole big man when the bench units check in and the Hornets going small with Williams at center to end halves and combat Golden State’s small ball.
That would mean an insane workload on the two, three and four positions, though. MKG and Batum would have to clock even more than 35 and 38 minutes, respectively. Ramon Sessions — who unfortunately throw up an 0-fer across the boxscore — would play minutes at the two. Treveon Graham would have been thrown in the fire.
Furthermore, it’s easy to get carried away with such small ball ideas and forget that you’re facing the masters in this game. The Hornets would be putting out lineups that aren’t comfortable in their positions and don’t have much chemistry of playing together.
Here’s what happened when coach Clifford went small in the fourth and Stephen Curry drove past MKG to the rim:
Nobody had the instincts of hoping over to protect the rim as a pseudo-big.
The D-League dominating Christian Wood is a name to ponder about, but with three minutes total to his name for this NBA season it’s easy to understand why inserting him would be a risk.
Even the calamities of the second unit seem relatively unavoidable. The team might have missed both of Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum out there, yet giving any of them more burn would have meant extending their playing time over 40 minutes.
The Hornets were far from perfect. Both Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry — only two of the best shooters in the game’s history — found themselves forgotten about in transition as they nailed open 3-pointers. That itself creates six unnecessary points.
Nine, if you count this possession of confusion about assignments after a made basket which resulted in an open shot from downtown for Curry:
Yet it still was a solid showing. One of Zeller or Lamb being available could have given the Hornets enough bodies and flexibility to win this affair.