Buzz Top No. 1 Seed Hawks to Split Weekend
At this point in the season, the Charlotte Hornets are stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place. They’re banged up and need to rest players, but at the same time, every single game is a must-win with time ticking down until the playoffs, and this weekend was a perfect snapshot of that late-season grind.
Al Jefferson and the Buzz had an exhausting weekend, falling short to the Washington Wizards in double overtime Friday night 110-107 despite 31 points and 10 rebounds from the big man.
Big Al’s gas tank was depleted come Saturday night when the Buzz had to face the Atlanta Hawks on the back end of a back-to-back, but his time Charlotte pulled off a convincing 115-100 victory despite Big Al’s limited minutes. After playing 40 minutes the night before, Al played just 18 minutes against Atlanta scoring just two points but grabbed six rebounds—though his squad picked up the all-important win.
Big Al has been a big topic of discussion around the Hornets, as the All-NBA big man simply isn’t 100 percent as the Hornets are amid the most vital part of their schedule.
But Friday night against the Wizards, the big fella did all he could to carry his team to a crucial victory, tallying a team-high 31 points with 10 rebounds. While contending with D.C.’s physical duo down low of Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario, The Postman went 14-of-24 from the floor and provided a plus-eight advantage while on the floor—and he did it all through the two-overtime tilt.
Charlotte fell behind early then worked to chip its way back through the remainder of the contest. With 3:50 left in regulation Mo Williams hit Al off a pick-n’-roll to tie the game at 88. On the next possession Big Al set a down screen for Mo who came off it and banked home a three-pointer to put the Buzz up three.
Williams had four threes on the night for a total of 26 points on the night off the bench.
After multiple possessions and limited offense it was down to a one-point lead for Charlotte with a minute left when The Postman was true on a smooth baby right hook in the lane to give the Buzz a three-point advantage, 93-90.
“We had chances – too many chances – to win,” said Al.
With 11.7 seconds left, Rasual Butler made a contested triple to put the Wiz within one, which ended up being huge when Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor made just one free throw before John Wall came down and tied the game with a mid-range jumper off a ball screen to force overtime period number one.
“We put ourselves in a position here tonight to win a game on the road, we made a couple of mistakes late on plays that need to be made and it cost us a win,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.
After the first overtime session wasn’t enough, Wall scored seven points in the second overtime session to put the game away, including a big -ime jump shot from the elbow that made the game 110-107 with under 10 seconds left.
“I think this loss is going to haunt us all summer long, even when we do make the playoffs.” Jefferson said. “This loss could probably be the difference between the eighth seed and the seventh seed.”
The Big Fella has been limited of late by a sore knee. But he pushed through to play 40 minutes Friday.
“I’m pretty good at dealing with pain,” Jefferson said. “You can’t make any excuses. You have to be out there.”
Kemba Walker struggled. Shot just 3-of-17 from the field and scored nine points in 46 minutes of action, he did help out in other ways by dishing out 10 assists. Gerald Henderson scored 11, and so did Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but MKG injured himself on a drive late in the third quarter. He tried to stay in the game, but fell to the court on the ensuing defensive possession.
Kidd-Gilchrist left the locker room on crutches Friday not knowing how long he might be out.
“It hurts,” Big Al said. “He’s our best defender, a big part of the reason we can be good on defense.”
TIRED BUZZ TRIUMPHS
While MKG was out for the Hornets, the Hawks gave DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Korver, Al Horford and Paul Millsap the night off to rest and Jeff Teague sat out with a sprained ankle, one night after Atlanta clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Gerald Henderson scored 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting, and Mo Williams hit four three-pointers and had 18 points as the Hornets snapped a three-game losing streak.
Marvin Williams chipped in with 17 points for Charlotte (31-41), which moved back within a game of eighth place in the tight Eastern Conference.
As he often does, Walker led the way with Al out. The Charlotte point guard went for a team-high 21 points and six dimes.
The Hornets built a 57-52 halftime lead behind 10 points off the bench from rookie P.J. Hairston, who was 4-of-4 from the field before the break, including a pair of threes.
Charlotte pushed the lead to 14 behind nine points from Walker in the third quarter, including scores on three straight possessions, and kept Atlanta from making a meaningful run in the fourth to win for only the third time in the last 11 games.
Big Al got a ton of rest on Saturday, but he wasn’t the only one.
“Obviously we caught a break with them resting their guys,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “But you can see that we’re fatigued. I thought our guys did a good job wanting to win and playing through a lot of fatigue. We struggled to guard them. They hit a lot of 3s. But any win in this league is a good win, especially in the middle of this 17 (games) in 33 days deal.”
Clifford said he’s giving the Hornets the day off on Sunday to recover.
Charlotte’s win sets up a big game Monday night at home against Boston. The Hornets lead the series with the Celtics 2-1 and could use the tiebreaker advantage.
“It’s important if it ever came down with us and them,” Clifford said. “And it’s also important with the conference record. Our conference record is pretty good. Our problem has been the West. It’s a conference and obviously the head-to-head.”
Charlotte will host the Boston Celtics at Time Warner Cable Arena Monday night.
Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.