Devonte’ Graham dropped 28 points and eight dimes while Malik Monk put up 25 points off the bench, helping the Hornets to a 115-108 win over the Timberwolves heading into the All-Star break.
Devonte’ broke out a baseline fadeaway jumper that nearly scraped the ceiling for the game’s first bucket, and he’d score all of the Hornets’ first five points as they trailed 10-5 with 8:56 left in the opening frame. With 6:35 to go, some dastardly devil unplugged the game clocks and shot clocks at the Target Center, causing a lengthy delay with the Timberwolves up 18-10. Some would argue those are grounds to dispute the result of the game, but that’s not for me to say. The Hornets didn’t play their most polished basketball, turning the ball over six times and sending the Wolves to the line for 12 free throws, of which they’d miss none. Devonte’ led the team with eight points at the end of the first, and the Hornets trailed 36-28.
The Wolves’ fast pace of play started to get to the Hornets in the second quarter. By the time there was 7:01 left, Minnesota had nine fast break points and a 45-34 lead. D’Angelo Russell was creating a lot of open jumpers for his teammates. He seems to be a really good fit with the Wolves, especially if they continue to surround him with floor-spacers and players that move a lot off-ball. Oddly enough, Minnesota repeatedly doubled Bismack Biyombo in the post in this quarter. Clearly, their methods can’t be argued with, as they took a 66-50 lead into the halftime break. Devonte’ and Biz each had 13 points, with Jalen McDaniels hitting a pair on his way to 10 points and four boards off the bench.
Miles Bridges and Caleb Martin got the scoring going for the Hornets with a triple each to start the second half. DLo’s quickness with the ball gave Charlotte’s defense fits all night, and he and Naz Reid displayed some nice pick-and-roll chemistry for new teammates. It didn’t take long for the Hornets’ defense to pick up in the third, though; they cut their deficit to 71-65 with 8:29 to go. Malik scored nine points in the final 4:50 of the third quarter, and the Hornets found themselves down 87-81 going into the fourth.
The Hornets continued to pound the ball inside and create looks off of the pick-and-roll to start the fourth. An 8-0 Hornets run gave them a 93-89 lead with 8:43 remaining in the game, and from that point on, the young core showed out. Malik, Devonte’, and Miles all made impact plays down the stretch that changed the course of the game. Miles absolutely bullied Malik Beasley on a drive and dunked on his head to take the lead. Two huge blocks from Malik on a defensive possession with a minute left led right into a 28-foot dagger 3-pointer from Devonte’. Everyone made their free throws in crunch time. They had to dig deep for this one, and they got it. It’s awesome to see this type of competitive drive from such a young squad. The Hornets took home the win heading into the All-Star break with a final score of 115-108.
This game should make Hornets fans excited. Martin and McDaniels both look the part of regular NBA rotation pieces in their short careers, with McDaniels posting 10 points (2-2 3PT) and six boards in 23 minutes tonight. He was aggressive on the boards and played well within the team’s defensive scheme. Devonte’ might have his confidence back after nailing the shot that decided the game and going 5-11 from 3-point land. The various pick-and-roll offensive sets they run are working; all of their guards are getting downhill, drawing defenders, and surveying the floor for the open man with frequency. And, most of all, Malik seems to have finally turned a corner; he’s shooting 38.1% from beyond the arc and 47.8% from the floor over his last 10 games. Most importantly, he genuinely looks comfortable with the ball in his hands. The coaching staff has given him the freedom he needed to build his confidence, and it’s paying off. This isn’t the Malik of old, where he explodes for one huge game amid a much larger sample of mediocrity; this has been building itself up for a while now.
This is probably insignificant in the big picture, but a rare DNP-CD for Cody Zeller tonight. Biz was largely out of the rotation prior to this evening, so it’s hard not to wonder why Zeller was taken out of the starting lineup and didn’t play at all. Maybe it was matchup-based, maybe he just needed some rest. Who knows?
The Hornets are off for the next eight days, but Devonte’, Miles, and PJ Washington will all be participating in the Rising Stars game at All-Star weekend in Chicago. Should be a fun watch. Devonte’ will also be shooting the lights out in the 3-point contest, so let’s make sure we all tune in and support our favorite young Hornets.