Kemba Walker was brilliant on Thursday night against the Detroit Pistons. Fresh off his first experience as an All-Star, the point guard made sure that no one in the arena forgot he was fresh off of a trip to New Orleans.
Walker scored the Hornets’ final nine points of regulation, single-handedly trying to hold the surging Pistons at bay. He hit a deep three to remind us he was in the 3-point contest. He had a classic stepback jumper that was vintage Kemba.
No other Hornet hit a shot outside of the restricted area in the 4th quarter or overtime. It was Walker, or it was a miss. That didn’t stop players like Frank Kaminsky and Nicolas Batum from trying, they just couldn’t hit.
For all of Kemba Walker’s brilliance, his inability to be guarded by the likes of Ish Smith and Reggie Jackson (the latter of which was neither traded earlier in the day, nor played after the third quarter). He was excellent when his team needed him the most.
And the Hornets lost because his team exalted a Piston to the same pedestal.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was not an All-Star, nor in consideration. While lauded for his tough perimeter defense and smooth shooting stroke, most think of “KCP” as a role player, a complementary piece. On Thursday the pending free agent showed he can more.
The Detroit Pistons entered the 4th quarter down fifteen points, and by the end of overtime won by six points. That 21-point swing was an incendiary symphony conducted by Caldwell-Pope, and the Hornets were helpless to stop it.
Caldwel-Pope saw Kemba’s nine-straight and raised him, scoring Detroit’s final eleven points to force overtime. Each time it looked like Kemba had put the Pistons away, KCP had an answer.
Nicolas Batum wilted against the screens Detroit was deploying, freeing Caldwell-Pope for three-pointers. When the Hornets switched, he simply took Kaminsky off the dribble and did the same. Trap, and Caldwell-Pope exploded to the rim for a thunderous dunk.
Kemba Walker finished with 34 points on 19 shots, an incredibly efficient line for a guard. He shot 50 percent from long range (3-6) and a perfect 9-9 from the line, chipping in 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
But Caldwell-Pope and his team get the win. When Detroit needed him the most, down three in the final seconds, he responded with a dagger from behind the arc. On the final play of regulation, Kemba Walker didn’t attempt to steal back his throne. Instead he made the “right play” and watched Marco Belinelli (2-7 for the game, 0-3 from behind the arc) miss a triple at the buzzer.
The cold reality for this team is if they want to turn things around, they have to do two things. They need Kemba Walker to always be the best player on the court, and they have to find a way to stop the other team’s guy when it counts. Thursday night their inability to do the second meant that they failed in the first as well.
Congratulations to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and his pending max contract. And is it too early to congratulate the Charlotte Hornets on their high draft selection?