All five starters scored in double figures, led by Terry Rozier with 27, but the Charlotte Hornets let a double digit second half lead slip away as they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 114-108.
The Cavs jumped out to an early lead on the backs of their star guard duo, particularly Donovan Mitchell. The lead lasted only as long as all the starters stayed in the game though. Through the middle part of the first quarter, the Hornets out-efforted the Cavs and went on a 20-4 to take a 29-15 lead. Dennis Smith had three steals in the first quarter alone and was a major catalyst for the run. The Cavs played through it and responded only by bringing Darius Garland back into the game after a very brief rest. After one, the Hornets led 35-25.
The Hornets turned the ball over five times in the early goings on the second quarter, but they defended the Cavs well enough for it to not really matter for a bit. The Cavs did eventually creep back into the game, but their first attempt to tie the game was swatted away twice by Nick Richards. Unfortunately the Hornets couldn’t capitalize on the defensive possession and turned it over on the ensuing break. The Cavs came back down and retook the lead on a Darius Garland three. But it didn’t last long. The tempo of the game ramped up rapidly and the Hornets took advantage with an 11-0 run. Garland got some of that back before the break, and the half ended with the Hornets up by seven.
The Hornets got off to a strong offensive start in the second half. They drove the basket well and generated good looks despite being forced into a halfcourt game. It helped that Terry Rozier was hitting step back threes if other offense wasn’t working. The Hornets led by as many as 16 in the quarter, but the Cavs scored eight straight to close the quarter out as the bench units filtered in. After three, the Hornets led 89-81.
The Cavs scored the first four points of the fourth to extend their run to 12-0 before Dennis Smith Jr was finally able to snap it. They eventually game all the way back to tied it a little past the eight minute mark. After a brief exchange of baskets, the Cavs went on a 9-2 run mostly spurred on by Evan Mobley. The Hornets answered with a small spurt of their own to set up a grandstand finish. Gordon Hayward free throws were answered by a Donovan Mitchell floater. Terry Rozier couldn’t land his punch on the other end, and the Cavs were awarded a relatively soft foul call on a Darius Garland floater that helped make it a two possession game with just 10.7 seconds left. The Hornets couldn’t make it back from there.
Rozier had 27 points, six assists, and four steals, but he turned the ball over eight times (after three straight games with zero), and his three fourth quarter turnovers were a big part of the run that put the Cavs up in the fourth quarter. Dennis Smith Jr stuffed the stat sheet, but he also struggled in the fourth quarter by converting just one of his six shot attempts. He and Rozier combined to go 1-of-9 from the field in the fourth while the rest of the team went 5-of-7.
Still, on the whole, the Hornets played well with their starters on the floor. They were -22 with Kai Jones on the floor and -25 with Svi Mykhailiuk on the floor, which isn’t necessarily an indictment on them or their play, but it does show how much the Hornets struggled when their depth was tested.
Both teams will enjoy a day off in Charlotte on Monday before going at it again on Tuesday for part two.
And for those keeping track, the magic number for the Hornets to clinch the fourth best lottery odds ahead of the Magic is now seven.