Charlotte Hornets: Breaking down Opening night


The Charlotte Hornets kicked off their season with a home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks, which they swept last year, and it very well may be the most exciting game I’ve seen as a Charlotte basketball fan.  In fact, if this sets the standard for Hornets’ games this year, there will be a lot of heart attacks around the Carolinas.  I hope none of you guys missed it.

Moments before tip-off Kemba Walker presented the fans with a nice little speech, thanking everyone for the support, and talking about how exciting it is to be a Hornets player this year.  The headlines coming into the game for the Bucks was the debut of Jason Kidd as their coach and the debut of 2nd overall pick Jabari Parker.

Time Warner Arena was packed with thousands of Hornets fans, each with tuxedo shirts on their seats to represent the inaugural season of the original Hornets in 1988.  South Carolina native Darius Rucker sang the National Anthem and the Hornets season was officially underway.  I’ll break this down by quarters, because we really looked like a modern rendition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde throughout the night.

More from Swarm and Sting

1st Quarter:  Our starting lineup consisted of Kemba, Lance, MKG, Marvin Williams, and Big Al.  Big Al was predictably double and triple-teamed in the beginning, and Marvin Williams stepped up knocking down two 3s early.  Our offensive execution seemed slow to get rolling and we settled for a lot of mid-range jumpers with mixed results.  Lance Stephenson was diving around, failing to make the plays he is known for, while Big Al seemed to grab every rebound that came his way.  Kemba Walker slowly started penetrating and posterized Brandon Knight with a crossover followed by a step-back jumper that resulted in a technical foul on Kemba for being too happy.  The refs probably felt bad for Knight, as once again he will be on the tail-end of a Sportscenter top 10, even though he was playing good defense.  Our defense shifted and covered the paint pretty well in the beginning, and our First Team offense looked like the real deal, minus Kemba Walker missing at least every other Free Throw he attempted, a problem that plagued him the entire game.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s new shot was the most exciting thing about the 1st quarter, and he jacked up 2 of them.  It’ll be a really exciting dimension for him if he can continue to shoot jump shots and free throws like he did tonight.   Cody Zeller was the first player off the bench for Marvin Williams, and MKG’s hustling put him in early foul trouble so he had to exit.  Gerald Henderson missed a few early open shots, but almost made up for it with an almost buzzer beater that ended the 1st.  We ended the 1st with 8 steals and 7 assists.

2nd Quarter:  With Henderson, Zeller, Neal, Jason Maxiell, and Brian Roberts on the court, things started to get pretty messy.  OJ Mayo started throwing up and making everything he attempted, 3s, step-backs, anything that went off his hands.  He really starting putting our defense in a bind, and our Second Team looked a little lost in that department.  The complex rotations Clifford talked about in his media day conference weren’t working out, and our defense just wasn’t gelling.  Players were counting on rotations and help defense that wasn’t there, leading to easy penetration and open jump shots.  When a player did step into the lane, it resulted in an automatic foul, and the Bucks are a solid FT shooting team.  With 26 points coming off their bench, most of them by OJ Mayo, the Hornets started digging themselves into a hole.  Lance subbed back in with the second team, and led them much like he did in Indiana.  His playmaking ability started to show on fast breaks, but it was too much to overcome and the Bucks effectively used their length to disrupt penetration.  Their extra passes killed us numerous times, often leading to wide-open dunks from the baseline.  I summed it up in a text by saying the Hornets lacked an identity.  We lacked a Douglas-Roberts type scrapper when MKG went out for foul trouble, and were turning the ball over at an almost constant rate.  It just wasn’t coming together, but the Hornets kept scrapping and clawed back and went into halftime down by 11.

3rd Quarter:  Coming out of halftime, Kemba missed even more free throws.  It was an irritating trend that carried on for a while.  More sloppy ball-handling, pointless turnovers, missed layups, and more wasted opportunities plagued us for much of the 3rd.  With 8:30 left in the quarter, we were down by 18 and the lead grew to 24.  I started to think about how this recap was going to play out, and started looking for good things to write about, when a few bang-bang plays started going our way.  Big Al started to heat up and with about 3 minutes left in the quarter Lance made some great plays on offense and defense, which had fans starting to wake up, then Antetokounmpo answered with a 3.  The air seemed to suck out of the arena.  Lance and Kemba’s recklessness really started taking a toll.  The whistle blew, and we had worked our way back to only being down by 15.

4th Quarter:  When the 4th quarter started, momentum was starting to swing to our side.  We started pressuring the ball, resulting in three quick fouls on Milwaukee.  Lance’s reckless style of play was starting to take a toll on him, and with 10 minutes left he was limping around the court.  Brian Roberts looked to be the only stable backcourt player on offense, but wasn’t playing defense and allowing a ton of penetration.  All of a sudden, things started to change.  Lance and Kemba started looking like the New York brawlers we’d heard about.  They were Tasmanian Devils, spinning around the court like I was watching Space Jam again, but Michael Jordan was sitting in his seat.  Lance seemed to start taking over the offense, with Kemba playing the wingman.  Together they were a force, constantly diving for the ball, knocking balls away from the Bucks, and forcing multiple turnovers.  With 9 minutes left Lance cramped up and was pulled.  Kemba picked up the slack, feeding Big Al which was being guarded by a John Henson.  MKG streaked across the court and slammed in a put back dunk which I didn’t even see go past the rim.  Lance came back in with 6 minutes left, and started making those emotional plays he made in the playoffs.  He started milking the bonus fouls, Kemba started penetrating, and we really started to look like a team with something to fight for.  At this point the entire arena was buzzing like nothing we’d seen with the Bobcats.  Big Al started getting the ball more, and was blocking and knocking shots away like never before.  At one point, Lance was practically crawling down the floor to get back on defense before getting the ball and calling for a time out.  He was taken out again for cramps, and we had just went on a 12-1 run.

Everything came into a culmination when after Lance was brought back in with 20 seconds left.  Kemba made a driving layup with 2 seconds left on the shot clock and we were down by 2.  Khris Middleton was immediately fouled and  missed the first free throw but made the second putting us down by 3.  With no timeouts and 7 seconds left, Kemba took the inbound and drove the full court, and with Jefferson setting a high screen at the top of the key, swished in a 3 tying the game with 1.6 seconds left.  Gerald Henderson deflected the inbound, and we went into OT on an 18-5 run.

Overtime:  We were shooting 6-20 from behind the arc including that miraculous 3 that tied the game.  We started out flat, resorting back to mid-range shots and overall looked exhausted.  We had 2 shot clock violations, one with Kemba never even passing the ball.  Williams his a clutch 2 tying the game at 104-104.  Middleton made another wide-open shot before Neal tied it on a driving layup with 40 seconds left.  After the inbound, Kemba stood again with the ball in his hand, not passing and finally called a timeout with 11 seconds left on the shot clock.  After the timeout, Kemba hit his second clutch shot of the game giving us the lead with 5.1 left on the clock.  Middleton missed the wide open 3 to win the game, and the Charlotte Hornets completed a 24 point comeback, and picked up their first win of the season.

A Performers:   Lance Stephenson and Kemba Walker.  Lance may not have had the stats, but his energy and effort plagued the Bucks and fueled the comeback win with the pure will to win.  He put his body on the line, and did everything he could to energize this team.  Kemba free-throws, lack of penetration, and not being able to make open jump shots really killed us in this game.  But you can’t put him anywhere but in the A category.  He hit the biggest shots, gave a ton of effort, and played defense like a man possessed.  The first 3 and a half quarters of this game were probably in the C category, but Lance took control of the offense to get us back in it, before Kemba took it back over to put the game away.

B Performers:  Al Jefferson, Marvin Williams, MKG, and Jason Maxiell.    Al Jefferson was consistent despite being constantly double-teamed but wasn’t fed the ball enough.  Marvin Williams hit shot after shot, really looking like our only pure shooter on the team.  MKG is almost certainly going to be the scrapper on this team, Lance really came around as the game progressed, but MKG was there from beginning to end.  Jason Maxiell gets a B for doing exactly what we expect him to do.  He was an enforcer in the paint for limited minutes, but really seemed to be the only guy on our bench that knew what he needed to do.

C Performers:  Everyone else.  We don’t hand out failing grades around Swarm and Sting when the Hornets claw back and overcome a deficit of that margin.  Although Gerald Henderson really let me down, we’ll give him a passing grade for knocking the inbound away at the end of regulation.