LaMelo Ball scored 31 points with seven made 3-pointers along with nine rebounds and seven assists while Gordon Hayward added 27 points in his return as the Charlotte Hornets rallied from a 23-point third quarter deficit to exact revenge on the Indiana Pacers, 123-122.
The Hornets started slow. The Pacers scored the first six points before LaMelo Ball opened the scoring with a 3-pointer off the dribble. The Hornets struggled to contain Domantas Sabonis in the paint, and he made his first seven shots as the Pacers built a lead. Rookie Chris Duarte chipped in with 11 first quarter points as well. On the offensive end, Ish Smith closed the quarter with eight straight Hornets points to keep the game from getting away.
LaMelo Ball took over the offense in the early parts of the second quarter. He hit three second quarter 3-pointers as part of little push, but the Pacers (and Duarte) pushed the lead back out. The Pacers held that strong lead throughout the rest of the first half and led by 17 at the break.
The Hornets started the third quarter with an offensive possession that contained four shot attempts and zero points. The Pacers went down to the other end and got a friendly role on a Myles Turner baby hook. The Pacers led by as many as 23 after a Duarte three, but a 13-2 run by the Hornets got them back into the game. Miles Bridges was the catalyst of that run, dropping a couple free throws, a step back three, and a steal that led to a LaMelo Ball slam. A Pacers timeout did nothing to stop the run. Ball came out and scored seven straight out of the timeout and then found Mason Plumlee for an alley oop. The run ultimately extended all the way up to 28-2 before a TJ McConnell layup temporarily quieted the crowd. The Hornets, against all odds, took a lead into the fourth quarter after winning the third 33-13.
The Hornets continued to outplay the Pacers for the early parts of the fourth quarter. Their defense was super disruptive and they got timely buckets from just about everyone in the lineup. They led by as many as 10 before Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon woke up. The pair outscored the Hornets 14-3 over a two-and-a-half minute stretch to retake the lead.
Gordon Hayward took over the Hornets offense down the stretch to go toe to toe with the Pacers stars. He scored ten straight Hornets points, then Miles Bridges weaved around Domantas Sabonis for a go-ahead layup with 51 seconds to play.
The teams exchanged misses, and Miles Bridges was called for a...questionable...foul on Torrey Craig as he dribbled up the court. He hit both free throws to give the Pacers the lead. The Hornets drew up a play for Hayward on the other end. His layup fell short, but PJ Washington came out of the scrum with the ball and was fouled on a desperation shot attempt. He hit both free throws.
Washington was then tasked with guarding Sabonis on the Pacers ensuing attempt to win the game, and he put the clamps on him. Sabonis’ push shot went begging, and the Hornets walked out with the win.
Ball was extraordinary tonight and looks ready to take a step after his phenomenal rookie season. Gordon Hayward came alive in the second half to keep the Hornets in the game while the Pacers were trying to put the game away. Kelly Oubre and Ish Smith each put up double figure scoring games in their debuts. Miles Bridges stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and three steals. PJ Washington had a quiet night statistically, but he arguably made the two most important plays of the night.
This win is a perfect jumping off point for the season. The Hornets know they can come back no matter how much they fall behind, and they exorcised their demons from the end of last season. And all of this without Terry Rozier.
The Hornets will try to keep it going in Cleveland on Friday night.