Stage 3: Bargaining
The Charlotte Hornets topple title-favorite Boston Celtics and win four of their next eight games.
The 11-2 Boston Celtics, widely considered the championship favorite, visited the Spectrum Center on a crisp Monday night in mid-November. Down 11 at halftime, expectations were in the gutter for the home squad. However, the Hornets fought back in the second half behind a stellar performance from LaMelo Ball and sent the game to OT. Ball's heroics propelled the Hornets past the Celtics, and Charlotte had something to be excited about for the first time in almost a month.
This win felt like a potential turning point in the season. LaMelo shredded Boston's defense to the tune of 36 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists; Mark Williams and Miles Bridges both posted double-doubles, and Brandon Miller was a +22 in 40 minutes played. Even Gordon Hayward was healthy! The fanbase began convincing themselves that this team could make some noise if everyone eventually returned to the lineup.
Hope is a dangerous thing. Optimistic thoughts began to creep into the minds of Hornets fans everywhere. Like a kid staring at an unattended cookie jar or Lakers fans spending hours on the trade machine every week - we couldn't help ourselves. The phrase "We are so back." was sent from my phone no less than ten times. Finally, after almost a month of the regular season, fans saw a different side of this Hornets team. A glimpse of their ceiling. A sliver of success. A single ray of sunshine peeking through the clouds surrounding the Queen City. Despite all of the negatives surrounding the franchise since October, there may still be a chance for a small turnaround.
It's time for the third stage of grief: bargaining. The Hornets went on to win three of their next seven games and brought their record to 7-13. It wasn't ideal, but they were in the hunt. Fans began to bargain with the basketball gods to give this team a chance. With three-fourths of the season left to play, there was plenty of time for the Hornets to make a run.
What-if scenarios became common when discussing Charlotte. If this team stays healthy, they could win a play-in game; if the defensive scheme improves, they can compete against top-tier teams; if the Hornets can get rid of their bad luck, things will take a turn for the better. Spoiler alert: these what-if scenarios seldom work out for historically underachieving franchises like Charlotte.