The new look mint uniforms were the only things looking fresh and clean in the Spectrum Center tonight. The Charlotte Hornets came into this New Year’s Day game at .500, 2-2, with the momentum of back to back wins. The Memphis Grizzlies came into Charlotte at 1-3; with a large portion of their squad on the Injury list and only nine active players. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. were the headliners on that injury list, but it also included the likes of Grayson Allen and rookie big man Xavier Tillman.
Everyone struggled to make baskets in the first quarter on the Spectrum Center’s brightly painted gold and mint hardwood. With the most exciting plays from the Charlotte Hornets coming from Bismack Biyombo’s hard work in the paint. Gordon Hayward was shooting airballs. Grizzlies players with two week contracts were getting buckets over Charlotte starters. When Lamelo Ball checked in halfway through the first quarter the Hornets went on a 7-0 scoring run, and seemed to be starting to find the rhythm, but the beat did not play on. The first quarter ended with a combined score of 42 points.
The sloppy play and turnovers continued into the second quarter. Lamelo showed off the elite level passing that got him drafted third overall in the 2020 draft. But the kinetic energy and on-point passing that sealed victories against the New York Nets and Dallas Mavericks were not on display. The Charlotte Hornets ended the half with 10 turnovers and 0 fast break points. To this point in the season they had led the league in fastbreak points. The good news is that at halftime it was a two possession game: Memphis 53, Hornets 47.
The bad news is that the woes continued in the second half. When it’s halfway through the third quarter and the Hornets leading scorer is Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte, there may be a problem. Coach Borrego’s pace and space offense was stale and slow. It wasn’t so much that the shots weren’t going in, though they weren’t, it’s that the shots came infrequently and with hesitancy. Even Lamelo Ball, who had a decent game, 15 points off the bench, would have open shots, but seemed to be seeking assists.
Meanwhile, the ball started to fizz around to Grizzlies’ players. Dillion Brooks, “Slo Mo” Anderson, and Jonas Valančiūnas stepped up to fill the vacuum left by Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. missing the game. The Grizzlies played with the type of energy that the Hornets used to win the past two games. The solid play of the nine active Grizzlies was too much for the sluggish Hornets and a 10 point lead grew to fifteen, grew to eighteen.
Terry Rozier, Devonte Graham, and Miles Bridges all ended the night with one field goal a piece. The team shot 27% from beyond the arc. The bright spot was the individual play of Bismack Biyombo who managed a 16 point, 12 rebound double double. It could be said that the Hornets underestimated the Grizzlies. It could be said that this was the “rest game” at the beginning of a back-to-back. But whether it’s in Purple or teal or mint or gold, this team remains a work in progress.
The Hornets will have to pick themselves up from the court quickly as they face the Philadelphia 76ers at 7:00pm January 2nd. Philadelphia is 4-1 on the season and Ben Simmons hit a three pointer. So, they’ve been spilling their cheesesteaks over that.