It seemed as though Malik Monk had one foot out the door. As he started to find his footing near the end of last season, a substance-related suspension derailed his season and separated him from the team for several months. He was reinstated in time for the brief offseason in preparation for the 2020-21 season, but he was again separated from the team after testing positive for covid-19.
Once he was healthy, there was no room for him in the Charlotte Hornets rotation. Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier had long established themselves as the team’s starting back court, and the offseason additions of Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball ate into most of the remaining minutes on the wing and at the guard spot. What was left went to one of the Martin twins, as they hadn’t played poorly enough to justify losing their collective spot in the rotation.
But this new, more mature version of Malik Monk stayed ready. He got his first bout of extended playing time against the Raptors when Gordon Hayward was out with a hip strain. He was fine. Not good. Not bad. The same could be said once he wiggled his way into the regular rotation. The Hornets huge upset win over the Bucks was his first notably good performance of the season, with the caveat that it had a touch of the consistency issues that have been the bane of Monk’s career so far—he did most of his damage in the first half and then was largely a nonfactor in the second.
That all built up to the best game of Malik Monk’s career, and the best performance by a Charlotte Hornet this week. The Hornets, fresh off back to back home wins over Eastern Conference contenders, were in Miami to take on the defending Eastern Conference champion Heat. The Heat had struggled up to that point, but they had been plagued by injuries and a prolonged absence from superstar Jimmy Butler due to the health and safety protocols. They were mostly healthy by the time the Hornets came to town, and the expectation was that the Heat were on the brink of becoming the best version of themselves once again.
Monk entered the game for the first time at the 7:12 mark of the first quarter. To that point, the Hornets offense was struggling. They had only mustered nine points and were staring at an early double digit deficit. Monk quickly made an impact. He splashed two triples within the Hornets first four possessions with him on the court. He added a third a couple minutes later as the Hornets pulled their way back into the game. His fourth and final 3-pointer of the quarter came during a flurry of scoring from both teams where Max Strus suddenly became the Heat’s best player.
James Borrego rode Monk’s hot hands through the second quarter. Monk played ten minutes in the period, hitting another pair of 3-pointers and notching a couple of assists. By the halftime break, Monk had scored 18 points, all coming from three, as the Hornets trailed by three points.
Monk largely disappeared in the third quarter. He didn’t make a shot from the field and failed to make much of an impact during his seven minutes on the floor. In that quarter, the Hornets rallied to take a six point lead over the Heat heading into the fourth quarter.
The Malik Monk we’ve often seen up this point would’ve stayed invisible through the fourth quarter. He’s always been one to play well and short bursts, and it seemed like the the fire from his explosive start had mostly burned out. But Monk stayed focused and recaptured his first quarter mojo. He hit five of his six shot attempts in the quarter, including another three 3-pointers, giving him a career high of nine for the game. The last of those was the most important of all. With the Hornets trailing by three and the final seconds ticking away, Monk took a handoff from Cody Zeller and drilled a three to force overtime.
Monk didn’t need to much in the overtime period as Devonte’ Graham and Gordon Hayward did the heavy lifting. He did get to cap off the scoring with a pair of free throws to ice the game to give him a career high 36 points. That also set the mark for most points ever scored off the bench for a Hornet, breaking game’s record of 35 set last season.
If Monk hadn’t established himself in the rotation to that point, Monday’s performance surely did the trick. It was a magical night for a player that hasn’t had a lot go his way recently, and it was a joy to watch.
You can relive some of the best moments here:
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