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Hornets step up in a crucial 122-114 win over the Nuggets

The Hornets exploded for an impressive 36-point fourth quarter and beat the Nuggets at home, 122-114.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight was a must-win for the Charlotte Hornets.

Hasn’t that been said a lot this year?

Either way, the Hornets muscled together whatever they had left in the tank and notched a huge home victory over the Denver Nuggets, 122-114.

It wasn’t always pretty, though. In fact, there was a damper mood after the Hornets put together a poor third quarter and trailed by eight heading into the last 12 minutes. But just like Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors, the Hornets exploded for an impressive scoring output in the fourth in what was an important game for both teams.

Heading into tonight, the Denver Nuggets held the ninth spot in the Western Conference, sitting behind the Portland Trail Blazers by a game and a half plus a tiebreaker. They needed this win just as much as the Hornets did.

As for the Hornets, they now sit two games back of the seventh and eighth seeds after both the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat lost tonight. Elimination wasn’t on the line tonight, but there was very little margin for error, especially at home.

The Hornets started the night off slowly with a few easy misses near the rim. They also didn’t have much of an answer for Danilo Gallinari and Gary Harris in the opening quarter, who capped off a 32-point frame with a 15 combined points.

After trailing by eight through 12 minutes, the Hornets’ bench revived the offense with 14 points. Led by Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lamb with 22 and 13 points each, the bench unit played perhaps its biggest role of season by scoring 50 total points.

It helped the Hornets get out to a 50-47 lead with 2:26 left in the first half off of a Kemba Walker 3-point make. The Nuggets would eventually tie it up 56-56 at the half, as Nikola Jokic hit a shit from well beyond the arc at the buzzer.

Jokic would follow his impressive shot up with an outstanding third quarter. He scored nine points, dished out five assists and grabbed four rebounds in the frame, and later in the fourth quarter got his sixth triple-double of the season. He finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

The Nuggets outscored the Hornets 38-30 in the third quarter, shooting 17-of-25 (68 percent) from the field. At least this happened in between all of it:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"> HUGE SLAM FROM <a href="">@CodyZeller</a>!!! <a href="">#DENatCHA</a> <a href="">#BuzzCity</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) <a href="">April 1, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

As Eric Collins would say, “Me oh my.”

Too often this season however, the Hornets have had stretches where their defense and offense have both shut down, and they can’t recover in time.

Walker was having none of that tonight. Down 90-78 late in the third quarter, Walker scored five points in the final minute to cut the deficit to eight. He wasn’t done.

Even though he played all 24 minutes in the second half, Walker showed no signs of letting up, and the team responded in the fourth quarter. In the last 12 minutes alone, the Hornets made seven 3-pointers and opened the quarter on a 12-0 run.

Coming off of that impressive 44-point fourth quarter against the Raptors, the Hornets scored 36 tonight. Again, thanks to the bench, who scored 25 of the team’s 36 points in the quarter, the Hornets shell-shocked the Nuggets late. Marco Belinelli hit three 3-pointers in Belinelli-fashion, and Kaminsky matched him while also adding three more points the old fashioned way.

Defense was also on display in crunch-time. The Nuggets only shot 7-of-21 in the quarter, and highlighting the effort was Marvin Williams with two huge blocks.

First this:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">WELCOME TO MARVIN WILLIAMS&#39; BLOCK PARTY! <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) <a href="">April 1, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

And then this:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"> BIG DEFENSIVE PLAY FROM MARVIN!!! <a href="">#DENatCHA</a> <a href="">#BuzzCity</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) <a href="">April 1, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

To no one’s surprise, it was Walker who closed the deal. Becoming the superstar he has played like this season, Walker finished the night with 31 points and eight assists.

The entire team played with a sense of urgency throughout the fourth quarter, and the atmosphere felt as if it were a playoff game.

Next up are the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Washington Wizards, both of whom are on the road. Still with a chance to make the playoffs, the Hornets will need a similar effort to tonight’s going forward.