The numbers do not lie – the Charlotte Hornets have not been particularly great at stealing the ball this season.
Coming into Monday’s game against the Orlando Magic (10-15), the Hornets (9-13) were averaging the fewest steals in the league, 5.8 per game. They’re the only team at fewer than six per game, and they average about half as many per game as the league-leading Oklahoma City Thunder, who record 10.5 steals per game.
But Monday was an entirely different story. The Hornets recorded their most steals so far this season, 13, two more than the 11 they registered in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs about a month ago. The benefit isn’t just from the steals though – off 20 Orlando turnovers, the Hornets scored 29 points.
So you could say those steals helped Charlotte ... well, steal a 104-94 victory from the Magic, ending a four-game losing streak.
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“We were intense and in the right spots and just wanting to do it,” Kemba Walker said. “We’ve been playing the same way around here for years, and we’re just trying our best to get back to that, and it starts with me.”
The overwhelming takeaway from the box score, though, was not that any one player turned into a bandit. There was no one Hornet who stole five, six, seven balls. It was a true team effort, each player registering just one or two steals whenever the effort play allowed it.
“We wanted to get after it, and we still want to be more active getting after it, getting deflections, getting steals,” Michael Carter-Williams said. “It’s just a mentality thing, you know, and sometimes we lack that on the defensive end, and we need to stay locked in and stay aggressive.”
One pretty example? When Jeremy Lamb tipped an errant Orlando pass headed for Marreese Speights (more on him later) to himself and then passed it ahead of Carter-Williams for the dunk.
There were plenty of other instances, but probably the best one is the one that put them over their season-high, No. 12. Carter-Williams was got the steal, then darted a pass to a leading Frank Kaminsky for a fast break dunk. The basket put the Hornets back up five, which was significant since the team had already lost an 11-point lead.
And the excitement was visible, too. After that play, Carter-Williams and Kaminsky both pumped their fists while Cody Zeller and Speights got into a dust-up. Speights shoved Zeller in the chest and was assessed a flagrant 1 foul. Zeller then made both his free throws, giving Charlotte a seven-point lead they never relinquished.
“When one guy gets a steal, one guy gets a lot of pressure on the defense,” Zeller said, “It kind of motivates everyone else to play like that.”
Of course there were a number of factors that played to the Hornets victory – Kemba Walker’s 29 points in his first game back from a shoulder contusion, the bench’s stellar play in the fourth quarter, and a struggling Magic team, to name a few – but the steals were as important as any.
And without them, the Hornets likely would not have stolen this win.