Overreaction isn’t Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego’s style. He tries not to let one game — good or bad — radically influence his mood, or his decisions.
So while a 28-point home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 15 might have seemed like an emphatic call for change, it was more the final tipping point.
“I think this has been something that has been brewing for the last week or two,” Hornets power forward Marvin Williams said of the rotation shakeup that led to consecutive victories. “Coach is very even-tempered, a very patient man. But at some point, everyone has to draw a line in the sand, and I think that’s what he’s done.”
The Hornets beat the Detroit Pistons 98-86 on Friday in their best defensive performance of the season. Borrego shook up his rotation Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers and continued that shift Friday against the Pistons.
The playing group now heavily favors defense and experience. Other than rookie Miles Bridges, it’s all the older guys. Tony Parker, in his 18th NBA season, was the only reserve guard to play Friday. Four of the five starters logged 30 or more minutes, and the only reason center Cody Zeller didn’t is because he was in immediate and constant foul trouble.
Malik Monk and Frank Kaminsky, both of whom had played regularly of late, got no minutes Friday. This was the second consecutive game Monk — a gifted scorer who often struggles defensively — didn’t play.
The Hornets held the Pistons to a season-low 86 points. Detroit shot 39 percent from the field and 24 percent from 3-point range. Also, the Pistons committed 16 turnovers.
That is quite a contrast from six nights earlier, when the Lakers scored 128, the most points the Hornets have allowed this season. One night earlier, the Hornets gave up 126 to the New York Knicks.
Borrego said earlier in the week he was exasperated with his team giving up 30-point quarters and thinking that was acceptable. They have now gone eight quarters with an opponent never getting to 30.
“I think we found a group of men that’s committed to the defensive end,” Borrego said postgame. “Tonight was probably our best defensive game of the season: Four fast-break points for them, 46 points in the (lane).”
When Borrego arrived in Charlotte, replacing Steve Clifford, he saw some untapped potential on the roster offensively. He experimented with ways to better feature scorers. The biggest move, which has been a major success, was adding Jeremy Lamb to the starting lineup.
Some other decisions — playing Monk more than Clifford did and using Kaminsky at center — have had mixed results.
The Hornets were consistently top-10 this season in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions), climbing to top-five for a portion of the first 30 games. That at times caused a false sense of security about the tradeoff defensively.
“Our offense is pretty good but our defense tends to come and go,” said Williams, who scored a season-high 24 points Friday.
That has to change. Friday completed a five-game homestand, the longest of this season. By the end of December, the 16-15 Hornets will have burned up half their home schedule. Defense is what gets you through road trips, and the Hornets are about to spend most of January away from Charlotte.
So correction needed to happen pronto.
“As we give up easy points, that’s got to be unacceptable,” Borrego said. “The easy points in transition (have) got to be stopped. We weren’t perfect tonight, but we were more perfect than not. We had bodies in front of bodies, we had awareness of their 3-point shooters.
“Some games in the past we’d give up a couple of 3s and not think twice about it. It would be easy walk-up 3-pointer and we’d look the other way and go play offense. There’s an accountability now.”
That accountability rose from Borrego sending a message with playing time, the best tool a coach has to change behavior.
When Williams said Borrego is a patient man, I agree. At times I thought he was overly patient in letting some guys play through their defensive flaws. A lost weekend against the Knicks and Lakers put an end to that.
“This last week he has really expressed, ‘Defense!’” Williams said of his coach. “He hasn’t said much about offense at all.”
What he did say — with words and minutes — got the right kind of attention when this team had lost its way.