The Charlotte Hornets really looked like they were going to pick up a win over the struggling New York Knicks on Friday night. Kemba Walker was enjoying another game in the Garden, he left Derrick Rose shook early on and kept the New York on their heels all night, putting up 31 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists.
Four minutes into the fourth quarter, Nicolas Batum hit Marco Belinelli who was in mid-air under the hoop. Belinelli scooped the ball up, against the moment and torsion of his body. The basket was good and the score was 99-93, the Hornets had the lead and the clock read 8:11 to play.
And then things went dark.
For the next six minutes of the game, Charlotte didn’t score a single point. One person who did score a lot of points during that stretch was ex-Hornet Courtney Lee. When they finally scored again, it was Walker, who made it a two-point lead for Charlotte, 101-99.
The last two minutes of this game were very entertaining, frustrating and plain old hard to watch for Hornets fans. After the Kemba tie-breaker at 2:01 in the fourth, Lee made his former team pay by drilling a 3-pointer and then assisting a Brandon Jennings 3-pointer after snagging a steal. That put the New York lead at 105-101 and they never looked back.
While the late heroics from Lee were the dagger, it was the scoreless streak of the Hornets that allowed the Knicks the opportunity to surge late and steal a win from Eastern Conference All-Star Kemba.
Here’s the tape on that stretch of play:
Charlotte had all kinds of variety. There were lazy passes picked off, great looks that were bricked, forced work by Walker. Nothing was beautiful and everything hurt.
The notable of this stretch, beyond the obvious fact that somehow the Hornets went six whole minutes without scoring any points at all in an NBA game in the lineups they had in play.
Steve Clifford is a great coach with defensive emphasis, so it means something when he starts Roy Hibbert, but doesn’t play the big man for the entire fourth quarter. Hibbert finished the game with just two points and four rebounds in 17 minutes, but also had a plus-3 for the game. For comparison, Spencer Hawes played the entire fourth quarter and finished minus-11. Most of that Hawes earned in the fourth, he was minus-8 for the quarter. That’s not great.
There was more not great. More than the turnovers, more than the bad shot selection, more than the inability to stop Lee. The lineup that was minus-11 between the 7:16 and 0:16 mark of the fourth featured the best players the Hornets had to offer at that point. Walker, Batum, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Hawes. That’s the kind of lineup that would normally be a go-to for Charlotte, save for the occasional appearance of Frank Kaminsky or Jeremy Lamb if they are healthy and scoring.
It didn’t work out well for the Hornets on Friday night. They finally got the shots to start falling toward the end of the game, but by that time it was a little too far out of reach. The Knicks aren’t the kind of team that you would normally worry about, particularly with Kemba on your squad in Madison Square Garden. Lee just ended up being too much in the fourth. He played the entire quarter, shot 4-for-5 from the field and added two steals, two assists and a block. Most of that impact came in the closing minutes of this game.
Surprisingly, Charlotte didn’t catch grief from Carmelo Anthony or Kristaps Porzingis in the closing moments of this game and Derrick Rose left the game with an ankle injury. Anthon was just 1-for-6 from the field over the last 7:52. Porzingis had a huge jam early on, but late in the game he didn’t add a lot.
However, Brandon Jennings and Kyle O’Quinn were useful. O’Quinn proved to be a problem. In the video above, he altered several shots, blocked a Kemba layup and secured several rebounds, six total in the quarter. And this is where Hawes probably had the most difficult time. Does Hibbert do much differently or impact the game in a meaningful way in the closing stretches? We’ll never know, but don’t you just love it when Cody Zeller is healthy?