Last night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons showed both extremes of the Charlotte Hornets. Kemba Walker reminded us how good he is (though do any of us need reminding at this point?), but the Hornets also reminded us that being great on offense means little if the defense is up to par.
That said, had there been four tenths of a second more on the clock, we’d be looking at last night’s game a little differently. Marco Belinelli’s waived off game winner was clever and well executed, and had it counted Marcus Morris would have spent years attempting to erase the play from memory.
But Belinelli’s game winner that wasn’t wouldn’t have happened without a 44 point quarter by the Hornets, who erased a 19 point defecit with just under 10 minutes remaining. Leading the comeback was Walker, who finished with 32 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. He shot 12-24 from the field, and 4-9 from the 3-point line, but did most of his damage in the fourth, scoring 20 points on 9-11 shooting while providing three assists.
It’s no coincidence the comeback started when Walker checked in with 9:53 remaining. He scored four straight in what became a 9-0 run for Charlotte, capped off by an assist to Marvin Williams, who knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 91-81 at the 7:26 mark:
Walker’s shot had been blocked by Ish Smith, but he managed to gather the offensive rebound, pull it back out, and find Williams on the perimeter. Given how sluggish the Hornets looked for most of the game (a likely side effect of playing on the road on the second game of a back-to-back) Walker’s fourth quarter brought the rest of the team to life offensively, particularly Spencer Hawes, who knocked down three 3-pointers, including one to tie the game at 113-113, and scored 14 points in the quarter. Walker’s play was inspiring, and dare I say, All-Star worthy (#NBAvote).
But down 15 entering the fourth, scoring 44 points should have been enough for Charlotte to overcome the defecit and get the win. However, unlike Wednesday's game against the Thunder, the Hornets did not get enough stops defensively to beat Detroit.
After cutting the defecit to 10, Charlotte entered a back-and-forth game with Detroit, having many big shots from Walker and Hawes nullified by 3-pointers by Detroit on the other end. After going from down 19 to down 10 in roughly two minutes, the Hornets remained down 10 nearly three minutes later.
Great offensive quarters mean nothing if a team can’t get the needed stops on the other end, and that rang true for the Hornets last night. On four occasions, Charlotte brought the lead under 10 only to have Detroit extend it back to 10 points or more on the next possession. While they did manage to tie the game with eight seconds remaining, time literally ran out for them when Belinelli was unable to get his shot off in time.
Much of the talk prior to the season was on whether the Hornets would be good enough offensively. Last night showed a bit of that, as the team was shooting 30 percent from the field at one point. But little was discussed as to whether Charlotte was good enough defensively — most assumed they were. Through 37 games, it’s become clear that Charlotte can be a good defensive team, but it’s not coming consistently enough. Last night was a good example — Charlotte allowed just 21 points in the second quarter, and 27 in the third (and it should have been 24 had Morris not knocked down a 30-footer at the buzzer). These were two solid quarters, but they were undermined by allowing 37 in the first and 30 in the fourth. As Detroit nullified many big shots from Charlotte with ones of their own, the Hornets nullified good defensive quarters with bad ones.
Last night’s game was fun down the stretch, even if we had to get through two quarters of poor shooting from both teams to get to it. Walker’s heroics were another reason why he’s deserving of an All-Star bid, and Belinelli’s shot was memorable even if it didn’t count. But all of this was overshadowed by Charlotte’s inconsistency on defense, which makes it frustrating watching Walker’s performance count for little because the team can’t get enough stops.