The Hornets were clearly feeling themselves coming into this game, as they spotted the Bucks 10 points to start the game. Giannis Antetokounmpo was kind of enough to help the Hornets offense get started by getting a technical foul. Terry Rozier canned the free throw to get the Hornets on the board. They really got rolling as the bench unit worked into the game and turned a 20-10 deficit in to a 39-31 lead by quarter’s end. They did most of their damage from beyond the arc, going 8-for-11 from deep in the quarter. Malik Monk hit the last of those at the quarter end buzzer. We also got another Melo to Miles highlight.
The Hornets took the good juju into the second quarter. They scored on their first four possessions with three of those possessions ending in 3-pointers, two off the hands of Malik Monk. The latter of those put the Hornets up 20. Giannis sensed that the game was getting out of hand and clearly ratcheted up his intensity. He bullied his way inside for a few buckets and carried the Bucks all the way back within four points of the Hornets by halftime.
Unfortunately, the half ended with a bite from the injury bug. After the Hornets forced a miss on a Jrue Holiday layup attempt, Terry Rozier stepped on Donte DiVincenzo’s foot on his way up the court. He was ruled out for the rest of the game with a sprained ankle.
The Hornets started LaMelo Ball in place of the injured Rozier coming out of the halftime break. The third quarter did not follow the wild oscillations of the first half. Instead, the Bucks slowly ate into and eventually completely wiped out the Hornets lead over the full length of the quarter. The Hornets left Khris Middleton open for a couple 3-pointers on what were otherwise broken Bucks possessions and gave up a lot of interior baskets to Giannis and company. But they finished the quarter with a flurry. Ball and Malik Monk scored the last nine points of the quarter for the Hornets as part of a 9-2 run that gave the Hornets a 97-94 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Bucks went through Brook Lopez to start the fourth quarter, and he gave the nine quick points. The Hornets got an offensive boost from Caleb Martin who hit a pair of 3-pointers, the second coming off his own big boy offensive rebound. Giannis survived a brief injury scare when he tweaked his knee while getting fouled by Miles Bridges, but that was nothing compared to the wrath that Cody Zeller was about to unleash upon him.
The Hornets outscored the Bucks 16-4 from the point of that dunk until the end of the game. The catalyst for that run was LaMelo Ball who put his stamp on the fourth quarter on both ends of the floor. He scored seven points during that stretch, five coming from the line. He found Devonte’ Graham in transition for two dagger 3-pointers, and he came up with two huge steals on the defensive end to ruin Bucks possessions. Mike Budenholzer called off the dogs early after the Hornets took a double digit lead with over 90 seconds to play.
Ball finished the game with 27 points, nine assists, five rebounds, and four steals while setting career highs in free throw makes and attempts with nine. He was hugely impactful down the stretch of the fourth quarter and showed a glimpse of what he’s capable of being as he matures. He finished with a game high +37 +/-, and that number was not a coincidence.
Gordon Hayward scored 27 points of his own, with most of his damage coming in the first half. Malik Monk continued his trend of big games against the Bucks (insert hunting joke here) with a season high 18 points. Miles Bridges was solid off the bench as well, stuffing the stat sheet and playing pretty solid defense.
Cody Zeller also deserves special praise. There were a number of possessions where he put the clamps on Giannis defensively. He finished the game with a very Draymond Green-esque seven points, seven assists, and 15 rebounds.
The Hornets will take the confidence from these back to back wins to Miami to take on the defending Eastern Conference champion Heat.