The Charlotte Hornets came up short against the Cleveland Cavaliers, falling 100-99. Dwight Howard led the Hornets with 20 points and 13 rebounds, making 6-for-9 from the free throw line. LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 27 points, 16 rebounds, and 13 assists.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist opened things with the team’s first four points. Cleveland knocked down a couple of open shots, forcing Steve Clifford to call timeout two minutes into the first quarter. Following the timeout, Clifford had Howard guard Jae Crowder rather than Kevin Love.
Charlotte’s defense improved, and they briefly took an 11-9 lead following two free throws by Jeremy Lamb. Both teams exchanged leads for the next couple of minutes until the Hornets made back-to-back 3-pointers to open up a three point lead (that was originally four until the Crowder was credited with an extra point from a outside shot). Charlotte maintained a lead the rest of the quarter, and headed into the second leading by one.
The second unit kept place with Cleveland for the opening couple of minutes. Michael Carter-Williams was active offensively, assisting twice to Cody Zeller in the paint and knocking down a corner-3 after keeping the possession alive. However, a few sloppy possessions lead to Cleveland opening up a six point lead with seven minutes remaining in the second.
Charlotte prevented a lead from growing, and managed to eventually take the lead with about three minutes remaining. Carter-Williams continued to perform well, and finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in the game. The Hornets got Howard more involved in the post, and he responded with a couple of made buckets.
Much like the first quarter, Charlotte took a small lead towards the end of the quarter and maintained it, leading 57-54 at halftime.
Charlotte came out aggressive in the third quarter. They took an early six point lead, then pushed it to eight after Cleveland briefly came back. They were active on the defensive end, forcing the Cavaliers into tough shots. But it wouldn’t last, as Cleveland got hot from beyond the arc. They worked the ball into open corner 3-pointers, which Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith took advantage of.
Cleveland took the lead, but Charlotte got it right back, taking a four point lead. It wouldn’t last; however, and the Cavaliers lead by one at the end of the quarter.
Both teams shot poorly in the quarter, making it a defensive grind. The Hornets looked to Howard often in the post, and he rewarded the looks by playing aggressive and making shots from the foul line.
Charlotte had a small lead with under four minutes remaining, but couldn’t pull away. The Cavaliers closed the gap, and James tied the game at 99 with a minute and a half remaining. Charlotte had a chance to take the lead next possession, but Lamb missed an mid-range jumpshot. J.R. Smith converted 1-for-2 to give his team a one point lead on the next possession. After Walker missed a 3-pointer, the Hornets made a key defensive stop, giving themselves a chance to win it with 11.1 seconds remaining. Lamb and Walker each got a chance to win it, but couldn’t convert.
It’s a tough loss that snaps the three-game winning streak, but there are positives to take away. The Hornets played well defensively, particularly in the fourth quarter. Howard was great again, and Carter-Williams continues to shine.
But the Hornets struggled at the foul line, making just 16-for-27 and missing six in the fourth quarter. Walker shot just 1-for-4 from the line, and shot poorly overall, finishing with 15 points and going just 6-for-21 from the field. Lamb also struggled, finishing with 11 points (4-for-15 from the field).
It’s a tough loss, and feels like a small missed opportunity given how the game played out in the final minutes. Hopefully Walker can bounce back tomorrow as the Hornets take on the San Antonio Spurs at home.
Of note: Lost in the, well, loss was a great game from Marvin Williams, who finished with 17 points and made 5-for-7 from the 3-point line. He hasn’t stood out this season, but is quietly played productive basketball.