Miles Bridges scored nine points in the final 24.9 seconds to will the Charlotte Hornets back into the game, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander buried a jumper to ice the game and give the Oklahoma City Thunder a 109-107 win.
Oklahoma City won the opening tip, but that’s okay because there was a real basketball game at the Spectrum Center for the first time in nine months. Hayward found Bismack Biyombo for a dunk to put the Hornets on the board before Biz stuffed Lu Dort in a locker a few trips later. LaMelo Ball got his first NBA point from the free throw line midway through the quarter; it clearly doesn’t take long for him to get hot, because he finished his stint with nine points in six minutes. Aleksej Pokuševski fouled Devonte’ on a 3-point attempt to end the first, and he hit all three to put the Hornets up 28-26. LaMelo led all scorers with nine points while Terry had seven after one.
Devonte’ Graham played with purpose early in the second quarter; he was penetrating the lane, making plays, and controlling the Hornets’ pace before hitting a deep three that put Charlotte up 41-31 and forced an OKC timeout and with 8:29 remaining in the half. PJ Washington looked reinvigorated against Mike Muscala and Al Horford, which could be a sign that he’ll find success against more perimeter-oriented bigs. The Hornets were up 46-41 with 5:45 left, and soon after LaMelo hustled for a steal and breakaway dunk; his energy clearly uplifted the team throughout his first-half minutes. Hayward and Terry were aggressive in finding their shots, and a Hayward jumper with 10 seconds left put the Hornets up 59-57 heading into the break. LaMelo led all scorers with 13 points. SGA had a team-high 12 points for the Thunder.
PJ got the second half going with a smooth layup from the right block, though it didn’t take long for the Hornets’ offense to completely stall out. The Thunder went on an 11-0 run that put Charlotte down 68-63 with 7:30 left in the third while the Hornets kept sputtering, attempting to slow down the game and get into a more methodical offensive flow. Not to be “that guy,” but they also didn’t get a single call that went their way all night, which never helps with momentum. Caleb Martin knocked down a three that cut it to a 76-70 Thunder lead with 3:14 left in the quarter, and OKC finished the frame with an 80-75 lead. The team shot 6-for-31 from the floor in the third.
Caleb hit his defender with a hesitation crossover and finished the lay-in for Charlotte’s first fourth quarter bucket. The second half featured some really strange rotations; LaMelo played eight minutes after scoring 13 points in the first half, and Biz stayed out there despite being a turnstile on defense at times. Hayward was invisible after a solid first half and the shots just weren’t falling... until Miles, Devonte’ and Terry had enough of the tomfoolery.
The second half was pretty dreadful up to this point; George Hill banked in a three to make it 102-89 Thunder with 2:13 to go before Terry countered with a pair of free throws and aggressive defense. And then Terry made more free throws. And then Devonte’ hit a three. And then Miles hit a three. And then OKC kept going 1-2 from the line when the Hornets started fouling. They chipped away at the lead each trip down and Miles just kept burying threes until he tied the game at 107 with 10.3 seconds left on a corner three.
Sadly, SGA immediately came down and shook Cody Martin before hitting a tough long-two to put the Thunder up 109-107 with 1.4 seconds left. Terry’s buzzer-beating 3-point attempt barely hit the corner of the backboard, and the comeback attempt was cut short with OKC taking the win in their first game of the season.
Terry’s 19 points led the Hornets, while SGA led all scorers with 24 points, adding nine assists and seven rebounds to his total. PJ chipped in 18 points and eight boards while Devonte’ recorded another double-double with 14 points and 10 assists. Miles finished with 14 points, all of which came in the fourth quarter.
A few quick hitting thoughts; James Borrego was on Mars when he came up with the rotations for tonight, or else there’s not much of an excuse for LaMelo not seeing the floor much in the second half when the team needed an energy boost; PJ looked a lot more comfortable and conditioned, so anyone who wrote him off owes me 10 push-ups; Jalen McDaniels was hustling his ass off in his shorts stints, he really deserves consistent playing time; and lastly, if they played with the fire they showed in the last two minutes, they clearly would’ve won the game. This is not a team that’s short for desire — we need to remember that this is still the pre-season for the Hornets, and they’re gonna look a lot worse than they actually are at times because they’re still rounding into form.
Soon come the Fun Hornets; for now, we watch the Chaos Hornets.