Charlotte Hornets’ coach Steve Clifford says there are two ways he likes to start a game, three if there’s an obvious mismatch. The first is to go to his big man, Al Jefferson. The second is to move the ball around so that everybody touches it.
Touch ’em all. The Hornets did that Tuesday at Time Warner Cable Arena. Ten had at least three rebounds. Eight hit three-point baskets. Seven players scored in double figures. Six had at least three assists.
“I only played 21 minutes,” Jefferson said to nobody or everybody from the chair in front of his locker after the game. “I don’t know if I’m happy or I’m not happy.”
Jefferson was laughing, so let’s go with happy. Jefferson announced that he also had two assists and two steals.
Charlotte beat the Chicago Bulls 130-105 in a game that was not as close as the score. If there was going to be a turning point, it would have been the start of the third quarter.
The thought isn’t ludicrous. The Hornets led 69-47 at the half. But they came into the game 0-3. Chicago came in 3-1. Even after two great quarters the Bulls certainly had the talent to make a third-quarter run.
Jefferson opened the third quarter with a steal and a 17-foot jump shot. The Hornets scored four more points before Chicago responded.
“It was complete domination from the tipoff,” says Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg. “They had their way with us and we didn’t have any fight.”
The numbers tell the story. The Hornets grabbed 52 rebounds, Chicago 33. The Hornets shot 23 free throws, Chicago 8.
It’s not as if officials were intimidated by the 15,136 fans. Charlotte was the aggressor. Nic Batum, Jeremy Lin and Jeremy Lamb went to the basket relentlessly. Batum was 9-for-9 from the line. The Hornets hit 22 of those 23 free throws.
Tyler Hansbrough, the former North Carolina star, was 4 for 4. He turned 30 Tuesday, and he made his Hornets’ debut. As is his custom, he was busy. He played 7 minutes, scored 6 points, grabbed three rebounds and crashed into one Bull. It was called a charge, perhaps the first time Hansbrough has been called for a charge in the state of Carolina.
Only Lamb missed a free throw. He also missed a field goal attempt. He made the other nine shots from the field.
What’s it like to be on the court when everything works?
It’s enjoyable to play, says Batum. It’s also enjoyable to watch, he adds.
The basketball was enjoyable, entertaining and effective. The Hornets took 91 field goal attempts and I don’t remember one bad shot.
First rookie Frank Kaminsky and then Lin put up threes that bounced off the glass and into the basket. They didn’t even pretend they called glass. Both extended their arms, turned their palms up and smiled.
The Hornets hit 14 of 23 threes (60.9 percent) and shot 51.6 percent from the field. If the ball went up, it went in.
Hugo the mascot shot from half court with his back to the basket. He missed two before making one. The surprise isn’t that he made one. The surprise is that he missed two.
“The basketball gods were with us (Tuesday),” says Clifford.
Clifford has talked about the basketball he envisions. But it was more concept than concrete.
Tuesday was a celebration of Hornets’ basketball. We saw it.