In what felt like a matchup with playoff-level intensity at times between teams jostling for seeding, the Charlotte Hornets stormed back in the second half behind a well-balanced attack to take a 106-103 win and claim the season series with the New Orleans Pelicans.
LaMelo Ball led the Hornets with 17 points, four rebounds and nine assists. Terry Rozier finished with 17 points on 7-14 shooting. Miles Bridges posted 16 points, four rebounds and five assists. Isaiah Thomas totaled 15 points on 5-9 shooting. Mason Plumlee put up 11 points, 10 rebounds and three assists while Montrezl Harrell chipped in 12 points, a steal and two blocks off the bench. PJ Washington had six points, five rebounds and seven assists.
CJ McCollum scored 27 points for the Pelicans, adding six assists. Jonas Valanciunas racked up 24 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Naji Marshall tallied 14 points and five rebounds. Jaxson Hayes and Willy Hernangomez each registered nine points and seven rebounds. Devonte’ Graham had two points and three assists on 1-9 shooting in his return to The Hive.
Valanciunas nailed a short jumper for the game’s first points. Ball and Washington each worked for deflections early, with Washington’s leading to a Rozier triple to get the Hornets on the board. McCollum engineered the Pelicans offense, helping Hernangomez hop off the bench and score four quick points. Both teams were static offensively, leading to a low-scoring, poor-shooting first quarter. Thomas’ pull-up jumper made it 22-19 in favor of New Orleans after one.
Ball assisted Thomas on a couple of jumpers to start the second quarter, the second of which came on a no-look, over-the-head bounce pass. The offenses began to settle in and the scoring picked up, with the Hornets tying the game at 30 before a 5-0 Pelicans run forced a timeout. Plumlee’s defense and Thomas’ scoring lifted Charlotte in the quarter (it was a weird game). 11 first-half turnovers stymied the Hornets as the Pelicans were being handed extra chances. Marshall took it three-quarters of the court and dished to Hayes for a buzzer-beating layup to put New Orleans ahead 49-43 at the break.
McCollum drove and kicked to Herb Jones to open the third quarter. Ball’s quickly canned three triples to cut the deficit to one, 58-57 a few ticks north of the eight-minute mark. Jones was ejected after being assessed a flagrant 2 foul for elbowing Bridges while he attempted a layup, after which the Pelicans went on a 5-0 run. Harrell threw down back-to-back dunks, but McCollum and the Pelicans responded as they did all night long. After mostly trading misses in the final two and a half minutes, the Hornets went into the fourth trailing 84-78.
Harrell brought the energy on the interior early in the fourth to spark the Hornets. A missed layup by Thomas led to a five-point swing after Jose Alvarado hit from distance, making it 91-82, swinging the momentum back to New Orleans and forcing the Hornets into a timeout. Rozier knocked down a triple off of the ensuing inbound. Charlotte came up empty on some prime opportunities until Bridges’ righty layup and consecutive buckets from Rozier tied the game at 95, capping off an 8-0 run. Bridges’ second triple of the night put the Hornets ahead 98-97, their first lead since it was 8-7.
Washington got a fading lefty hook to fall and drove and dished to Plumlee for a dunk to put the Hornets up three with under a minute to go. McCollum got a quick isolation bucket to cut it to one, followed by another Plumlee dunk and an Alvarado two that made it 104-103. On the Hornets’ final possession, James Borrego refrained from calling timeout, letting Ball isolate on Hayes, blow by him and nail a floater that put the Hornets ahead 106-103 with 8.9 seconds left. Graham’s prayer fell short at the buzzer thanks to some swarming last-possession defense from Charlotte.
As always, my takeaways; Bridges has gotten so much better at one-handed passes this year it’s awesome; poor Devonte’ having a bad game in his return to Charlotte; the Hornets can never seem to take advantage of other teams starting slow on offense for whatever reason; this is far and away the best center rotation Borrego has ever had at his disposal and it shows; insane clutch play from Melo, this is why it’s dumb to sit him late in games no matter what; THIS IS WHAT PLAYOFF TEAMS DO!!!