What did Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker see on that last possession Friday?
“Daylight,” Walker said with a look that showed relief more than euphoria. “It always feels good to win – especially when you’ve lost 10 in a row.”
With four seconds left, down one to the New York Knicks, it looked like 11 in a row. Then Walker, in a pick-and-roll with center Al Jefferson, faked to his right, beat Pablo Prigioni to the left and elevated past Amar’e Stoudemire for the left-handed layup at the buzzer.
Hornets 103, Knicks 102. Further crisis averted.
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“I saw an open lane and knew I had to get to the rim in a hurry,” said Walker (11 points, four rebounds and four assists).
This was very nearly the third collapse of the season in a game the Hornets led by 20 or more points. They were up by as many as 21 in the third quarter and still held an 89-71 advantage with 10 minutes left.
Then the 4-17 Knicks started making everything. Overall in the fourth quarter the Knicks hit 12 of 21 attempts, including six 3-pointers. They outscored the Hornets 33-18 in the fourth, taking a 102-101 lead with 40 seconds left on Carmelo Anthony’s 3.
Anthony scored 15 of his 32 points in the final period and there were all sorts of tumble-down effects from his 5-of-9 shooting over the last 12 minutes.
“He’s a handful because you can’t guard him with one guy,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford. “And they have so much shooting around him on the floor.”
Clifford liked his own offensive options in the fourth quarter. But center Al Jefferson (16 points and 13 rebounds) missed four of his six fourth-quarter shots, including a wide-open 13-footer from the baseline.
Walker was no better overall in the fourth, going 1-of-5 from the field. But that one bucket was a game-saver.
“With four seconds left obviously you can’t post up,” Clifford said of going to Jefferson. “(Walker) got by (Prigioni) and then Stoudemire at the rim.”
The Hornets previously wasted leads of 20 or more points in losses to the Portland Trail Blazers and Orlando Magic. That they had a 21-point lead with 2 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter was to the credit of Gerald Henderson, Lance Stephenson and Gary Neal (just back from a left shoulder injury).
Henderson scored a season-high 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field, mostly drives to the rim or mid-range jump shots. He also played tough defense on Iman Shumpert (2-of-7 for four points) and occasionally helping against Anthony.
Stephenson took primary responsibility for Anthony defensively and finished the game with 16 points, six rebounds and six assists. Neal added 13 points off 5-of-9 shooting, plus three assists.
“He’s just a special scorer, in all the ways he can score,” Henderson said of Anthony. “He can evade you, so you better have someone coming or someone appear to be coming. And even then he can get his shot off.
“Tonight was similar to a lot of games we’ve played; they stuck some shots and we made some mistakes. But we won this game.”
“A lot of positive energy, a lot of togetherness and a lot of intensity,” Walker added. “But we still have to learn to close games out. We’re having a tough time letting teams back in games, but hopefully with this win that can stop.”