Big Al Shuts Down D.C. Frontcourt
For the second time in four days the Al Jefferson and the Charlotte Hornets played against one of their biggest foes above them in the standings, the Washington Wizards. And for the second time in four days, Big Al got the best of the Wizards’ frontcourt duo.
After limiting Washington’s big men to just 12 points on Monday night, Big Al and the Buzz did it again, holding Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario to just 19 points combined. Meanwhile, Gerald Henderson led Charlotte with 27 points, including a jaw dropping alley-oop finish over Gortat as the Hornets won their third straight game 94-87 over the Wiz.
Al Jefferson had a slow night scoring, shooting just 3-of-12 on the night for eight points, but he pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked three D.C. shots in 27 minutes. Most importantly, he played an enormous role defensively.
The Big Fella started slow, being blocked on his first shot attempt by Gortat, but Al never stopped fighting.
“I could go 3-for-12 and still win the game,” Al said. “Last year it was to the point where I’d have to average 21 or 22 points a game and have big nights. Now MKG steps up, Gerald brought his game to another level, just shows how much guys have gotten better in one year.”
His biggest contribution came in the fourth quarter, when his veteran play served to be crucial down the stretch when he rattled off six straight points. A pair of free throws, a put-back dunk and signature up and under move by The Postman with just over three minutes to play in regulation gave Charlotte a three-point lead, 86-83.
Charlotte raced out to a 34-30 lead after one, but the Wizards bit back to take a 54-49 halftime lead—and they took that five-point cushion to the fourth. D.C. clung to that lead until Big Al went into action late in the final frame.
After his six consecutive points, the Hornets never looked back and never gave up the lead en route to yet another key win in the Eastern Conference playoff race. After being 6-19 at one point this season, the Hornets have re-emerged as a team they want to be.
“We just had to get back where we needed to,” Big Al said. “What got us that success last year. A team that’s not going to give up, a defensive minded team.”
The collective effort was evident on Thursday night. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Lance Stephenson each scored 11 and Brian Roberts pitched in 12. But it was Jason Maxiell’s play off the bench that Coach Steve Clifford felt was a game changer. Maxiell had 11 points, eight rebounds and a career-high seven blocks in 21 minutes.
Maxiell told media in the locker room that his role is, “Mentor slash player slash coach somewhat,” And that his game is, “Nasty, grinding, going to fight, might even beat up my own teammates once in a while.”
After describing his style of play, Maxiell pointed out how rare that type of game is nowadays, but that only one man shares the same competitive grittiness, Big Al.
“Myself and Al (Jefferson) probably are the last breed of the old physical guys,” he says.
The style of play that Charlotte is playing with is contagious, and the team is beginning to make shots in pivotal moments of the game. Big Al knows the value of making shots, and that’s what is helping Charlotte win games.
“Guys started making big plays down the stretch,” Al said. “ It stared with Brian and Max, they set the tone, and when they set the tone other guys came in and we finished he game”
The Hornets (22-27) will have Friday off before hitting the road to take on the Philadelphia 76ers (11-39) Saturday night.
Charlotte has a chance to clinch the three-game season series in this tilt after winning Round 1 in Philly. Big Al went for 20 and 12 with three assists and a steal in that 109-91 victory.
He’ll once again have to contend with a young-but-talented Sixers frontcourt, headed up by Nerlens Noel. The Kentucky product is averaging 8.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.6 steals per game.
The young Philly squad has been playing some of its best basketball of late. The Sixers have won three of their last five tilts, most recently a 105-98 win over the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night.
That win came on the second night of a back-to-back—and the Sixers will once again be in that position after taking on the Boston Celtics Friday night.
Tipoff from the Wells Fargo Center is set for 7:30 p.m. EST.