Hornets Split Weekend on Road
The Charlotte Hornets began their road back-to-back over the weekend with a tough loss to a playoff hopeful in the Detroit Pistons, but 15 points and six boards from Al Jefferson helped them to get back on track on Saturday.
Al had eight points and seven boards, but the Hornets couldn’t dig out of a 22-point hole in a 112-105 defeat in Detroit. But the following night, Big Al came through with a big effort as the Hornets bounced back with a definitive win.
“I just liked the way we came in. You could tell there was a readiness, good questions, good attentiveness, and we carried it over into the game,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. “After last night, which was disappointing for everybody, tonight we were a very serious-minded, professional team playing very confident on the road. It was impressive to watch.”
SLOW START IN MOTOR CITY
The Pistons started the game making four of their first six shots. Walker’s 25 first-half points, including 6-of-8 on 3-pointers, were instrumental in keeping the game close, but at the end of the first quarter, Detroit held a 36-24 lead.
“We just didn’t have the mindset that we should’ve had to start the game. They came out focused, which we knew they was because we had beat them twice and they had been playing well,” Big Al said.
To open the second quarter, Big Al had a great assist to Frank Kaminsky for a three-pointer, which cut the lead to eight. No. 25 continued to chip away at the lead with a layup later in the period.
In Charlotte’s last matchup with the Pistons, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went for 24 points and Tobias Harris scored 20. Al and the Hornets showed great defensive presence by limiting the duo to a combined eight points in the first half.
“We just have to play better. We have to have a better intensity to start the game. In that first half, we just didn’t have it,” Al said.
Great ball movement in the first half allowed the Hornets to shoot 63 percent on three-pointers, but Detroit’s 59 percent shooting helped the Pistons enter halftime on top 72-56.
At the start of the third quarter, the Hornets tried to chip away at the Detroit lead. Al grabbed four defensive rebounds and added a layup, but the Pistons finished the quarter on top 98-76.
No. 25 carried his momentum into the fourth quarter. He had great awareness to snatch an offensive rebound off a missed Jeremy Lin jumper and tip it in for easy points. At the other end, he showed his versatility by stealing a pass from Caldwell-Pope.
With six minutes left in the game, things got interesting. The Hornets went on a 23-6 run, which forced Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy to send in some of his starters. With 37 seconds left, a Jeremy Lamb three-pointer made the score 108-103, but free throws from Reggie Jackson and a missed jumper from Troy Daniels sealed the win for Detroit.
After the tough loss, Big Al immediately looked forward to the next night, which brought a tough test against a young, lengthy Milwaukee squad.
“That’s nothing we haven’t seen before,” Big Al said of the Bucks. “We have done it before against both teams. It starts with ourselves. We gotta have the mindset. We gotta have that intensity. We gotta be ready to play. You can’t come out the way we came out tonight. We’ve just got to move on from it. We’ve got another game. We are still where we want to be.
BOUNCEBACK VS. BUCKS
After a near comeback against the Pistons, Al and the Hornets left no doubt in Milwaukee.
Nicolas Batum said Charlotte wanted to get physical with Milwaukee’s tall lineup and it worked. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who averages nearly 17 points, was held to just eight. The Hornets secured a series win, 3-1, over the Bucks for the season.
Charlotte’s lineup was lights out. The team shot a season-high 55 percent from the field and dished out a season-high 30 assists. Four Hornets scored 15 or more points, including Batum who scored 25, and Big Al who carried the bench with 15 points and six rebounds.
Great team defense held the Bucks to 35 percent shooting in the first quarter. Al entered with three minutes to play and snagged a defensive rebound before taking John Henson to the hoop and drawing a foul. Then, he pocketed a midrange jumper, which helped the Hornets go up 29-17 at the end of the first buzzer.
Even more impressive was that the Hornets doubled up the Bucks in points in the paint 16-8 after the first quarter. The Bucks are No. 1 in the league in that category.
“We’ve played this team fairly well this year. We just executed on the offensive end and defensively we did it by committing. They’re a very good offensive rebounding team, so everybody made a conscience effort to kind of block out and help us out today,” Marvin Williams said.
Al continued to show his versatility in the second quarter with a silky assist to Courtney Lee. With five minutes remaining, the Bucks pulled to within five points, but a 13-2 Charlotte run gave Charlotte a commanding 55-38 lead at the half.
Batum scored 23 first-half points, which was one point shy of his personal best for points in a half.
The Hornets weren’t going away. In the midst of a huge third quarter, Big Al feasted on Greg Monroe to draw a foul, before taking Henson to the hoop two straight times for more free throws. In the red-hot quarter, Charlotte connected on 7-of-12 threes to build a 29-point lead.
With a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, No. 25 worked a beautiful two-man game with Kemba Walker for a layup, and then Big Al brought down the house with a thunderous dunk a few plays later. The Professor finished the second half with 12 points.
With about three minutes to play, coach Clifford was able to rest his key players, including Big Al, and the Hornets cruised to a 115-91 win. This Hornets have now won 10 of their last 12. In the month of March, 12 wins ties a franchise record for victories in a month.
“We played 10 home games, which has really helped us. We’ve gotten rested. We’ve been healthy and then we’re more balanced. Our offensive has been pretty consistent throughout the year, but we’ve played better defensively this month also,” Clifford said.
The Hornets finish their four-game road trip in Philadelphia with a Tuesday contest against the 76ers.
Charlotte’s last contest with the 76ers came in March with a 119-99 win in Philly. Big Al’s six points and six rebounds helped the Charlotte bench outscore the Sixers 39-29. The game was part of Al’s first back-to-back of the season.
The game will start at 7 p.m. and can be seen on Fox Sports Southeast or heard on the radio with WFNZ.
EASTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS – 3/28
1. y – Cleveland Cavaliers (52-21)
2. x – Toronto Raptors (49-23) 2.5 GB
3. Atlanta Hawks (44-30) 8.5 GB
4. Boston Celtics (43-30) 9 GB
5. Miami Heat (42-30) 9.5 GB
6. Charlotte Hornets (42-31) 10 GB
7. Indiana Pacers (39-34) 13 GB
8. Detroit Pistons (39-35) 13.5 GB
y – Clinched division
x – Clinched playoff berth
- Batum scored 25 as Hornets rout Bucks 115-91 (ESPN, March 26, 2016)
- Al Jefferson’s injury showed that Hornets Cody Zeller is an NBA center (Charlotte Observer, March 26, 2016)
- Third-quarter shooting gives Charlotte Hornets a dominant win over Bucks (Charlotte Observer, March, 26, 2016)
- Playoff-chasing Pistons win again, 112-105 over Hornets (ESPN, March 25, 2016)
- Don’t be fooled by score; Detroit Pistons drilled Charlotte Hornets (Charlotte Observer, March 25, 2016)