If you turned off last night’s game at halftime, don’t read any further. Seriously, close this window. Click on an ad in support of journalism and move on, because you’re feeling much better about the Charlotte Hornets playoff chances than those of us who kept watching.
The Hornets lead the Washington Wizards by 12 entering the third quarter. In the other key matchup of the night, the Indiana Pacers trailed the Raptors by 11. If both results held, the Hornets would’ve been tied with Indiana in the standings and just a half game back of the Heat for eighth place.
But the second half was disastrous. Outscored 36-18 in the third, the Hornets put themselves in a tough spot entering the fourth quarter, and did themselves no favors late in the game, allowing too many open 3-pointers.
Over in Indiana, the Pacers outscored the Raptors 62-39 in the second half in route to an 18 point win. Instead of setting up a Wednesday night that could’ve seen Charlotte move to eighth place with a half game lead, they are now two games back with four to play.
Charlotte’s play the past couple of weeks has been superb, and a few players in particular have been playing their basketball of the season. Given the small margin of error, however, they couldn’t afford another poor stretch of play, but after so many games they were due for a dip in play. It came in the third, and continued into the fourth, and they found themselves committing the same mistakes that had cost them throughout the season.
In particular, their perimeter defense let them down. Totaling 17 in the game, Washington spread them out throughout the game, but made a few late in the fourth quarter that stopped Charlotte’s late comeback more than once.
Leading the resistance was Kelly Oubre Jr., who knocked down three from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter. His first two came early in the minutes, and kept Washington’s lead in double digits. His third came during a critical possession, as Frank Kaminsky had just cut Washington’s lead to four with a minute and a half remaining. One stop, and things get interesting, but Oubre wasn’t having it and extended his team’s lead back to seven. Otto Porter Jr. then furthered buried the knife on the next possession, as he answered two free throws from Kemba Walker with a corner 3.
To Charlotte’s credit, they put up a resilient effort in the fourth, and if Nicolas Batum knocks down a 3-pointer with three minutes remaining, they trail by just three and we might be looking at this game a little differently. But once again, Charlotte struggled for too long a stretch, which made it too difficult for them to come back from.
In a way, last night’s game felt too reminiscent of the Hornets season — a promising start, followed by a horrendous stretch, capped off by a late push that comes too late to make a difference. And yes, winning the final four games of the season could end up being enough to sneak in — but it feels apt given the way that so many games this season have gone as they did last night, that they will likely end up a game or two short.