Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford had a blunt tone both before and after his team broke a four-game losing streak by topping the New York Knicks 107-102 Saturday.
Pre-game, he called the roster to task for a dramatic decline in defense and rebounding over the past four games. Then, post-game, he addressed a flaw of an entirely different sort.
"Free throws are killing us," Clifford acknowledged.
No doubt of that. The Hornets are generally terrific this season at getting themselves to the foul line. The problem is converting opportunity into points. Saturday, they took 42 free throws to the Knicks’ 20. But the Hornets missed 13 of those attempts, including the fourth quarter when they missed six.
Think about it: The most efficient scoring opportunity in the NBA is at the foul line. But not if you can’t do better than make one of two down the stretch.
By Steve Clifford’s estimation, the losing streak wouldn’t have lasted nearly so long had the players made their free throws.
By Clifford’s estimation, the losing streak wouldn’t have lasted nearly so long had the players made their free throws. They missed 10 Friday in the overtime road loss to the Knicks and five in a five-point home loss to the San Antonio Spurs. So the streak shouldn’t have lasted all this time and this should be a correctable flaw.
Clifford says turnovers are a personal-responsibility issue for players. I asked him post-game whether he considered missing free throws a similar dynamic. His answer is worth remembering as far as future fourth-quarter rotations.
Steve Clifford said that when players show a propensity to miss free throws, sooner or later coaches must react by trimming back fourth-quarter minutes.
Clifford said that when players show a propensity to miss free throws, sooner or later coaches must react by trimming back fourth-quarter minutes. Just to illustrate his point about being clutch, Clifford added, "That’s why Kemba Walker is Kemba Walker."
True, but even Walker missed two free throws in the final quarter. He was spectacular Saturday, with 28 points, including eight in the final quarter.
Clifford said his team played with an "edge" Saturday, and that was in marked contrast to how he described his team’s approach the past four games.
"We pick-and-choose when we want to play defense," Clifford said pre-game. "We pick-and-choose when we try to rebound."
Steve Clifford believes physicality is one of the Hornets’ weaknesses. But the other physical player on this roster, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, sure did his job Saturday.
It certainly didn’t help that one of the Hornets’ most physical players, power forward Marvin Williams, will miss at least a week of games while recovering from a hyper-extended left knee and accompanying bone bruise.
Clifford believes physicality is one of his team’s weaknesses. But the other physical player on this roster, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, sure did his job Saturday.
With Nic Batum also out with an eye injury, Kidd-Gilchrist was the only healthy Hornet with the body type and experience to match up with Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. Kidd-Gilchrist was rugged and precise on defense, holding Anthony to 7-of-25 shooting, while allowing him to go to the foul line just twice in 34 minutes.
Frank Kaminsky had a harder time containing Kristaps Porzingis (25 points and 11 trips to the foul line), but just as Clifford said, the Hornets got their edge back.
They’ll need that. With four games between now and Saturday and a short-handed roster, this ride is in for more bumps.