The Charlotte Hornets defeated the Phoenix Suns Sunday afternoon, tipping off at a time we typically associate with the Carolina Panthers. Afternoon starts can be tricky, and Charlotte nearly cost themselves a needed win twice in the second half after such a strong start. Any game that starts 30-7 in favor of one team typically ends in 25+ point blowout, but Phoenix didn’t go away, cutting Charlotte’s lead to 9 late in the third quarter, and to four late in the fourth. Both comebacks came after the Hornets led by 25, and 18, respectively, which isn’t surprising given Charlotte’s tendency to give up those kinds of leads this season.
That said, Charlotte avoided the loss. Credit goes to them for avoiding the complete collapse, but they also benefited from Phoenix’s inexperience and youth.
Charlotte led 74-59 with 10:07 remaining in the third quarter, and starting to build on their 22 point halftime lead. Then, Phoenix scored 13 straight over the next three minutes to make it 74-63, then eventually made it 79-70 at the 4:52 mark. After trading a few buckets, Steve Clifford called a 20 second timeout with the team leading by 11. The Hornets were having little trouble scoring now, but so were the Suns. Clifford, not liking the ease by which Phoenix was hanging around, called the timeout, which prompted an 8-2 run for the Hornets, with Marco Belinelli, Kemba Walker, and Marvin Williams each contributing. After trading a few more buckets, Walker knocked down a 3-pointer to give his team an 18 point lead to end the quarter.
In the fourth, T.J. Warren made it 105-101 with about four and a half minutes remaining. You’ll note that given the final score, Phoenix scored just five more points the rest of the game. Momentum quickly shifted back in Charlotte’s favor on the next possession, which ended with a 3-pointer from Nicolas Batum. The shot came as a result of Walker, who drew defenders driving from the right wing. He found Zeller at the top of the key, who reversed the ball to an open Batum on the left wing.
Charlotte’s lead was back to seven, but quickly grew to nine, forcing Suns coach Earl Watson to call timeout. It wouldn’t make a difference, however, as Charlotte scored eight more points before Phoenix scored again. By that time, Charlotte led 118-103 with just a minute over remaining. The game was over.
A 13-0 run in three minutes sounds remarkable, but Hornets found a lot of success off the fact that the Suns weren’t experienced enough to handle the situation. Phoenix had closed within four, but couldn’t get stops on the next three possessions, which killed all the momentum they had.
Charlotte found success because Phoenix gave them opportunities by making the mistakes accustomed of young players. For instance, following a missed bucket, Walker found Zeller for a layup on a three-quarter length pass that happened because Phoenix didn’t get back on defense. On the next Hornets possession, Williams was able to drive into the paint from the left corner, blow by three defenders, and score a layup shooting across his body. These things don’t happen against teams with a bit more experience, and a bit more to play for.
The Hornets lucked out yesterday. They committed some of the same mistakes they’ve made all season, but weren’t punished for it because their opponent made more.
They are now two games back of the Miami Heat and 8th place in the Eastern Conference with 9 games to play. It still feels like too much to overcome, but it’s been a strange enough season that nothing can ruled out anymore.