Charlotte Hornets

How Kemba Walker’s big fourth quarter carried the Hornets past the Chicago Bulls

Kemba Walker has a true day off Sunday, and man does he deserve to sleep in.

All-Star point guard Walker dragged his Charlotte Hornets past the Chicago Bulls Saturday with an amazing fourth quarter, scoring 15 of his 37 points in a 125-118 home victory. The win got the Hornets back to even for the season at 26-26. The Hornets have now won five in a row at Spectrum Center.

The Hornets once trailed this game by as many as 15 points, after Bulls reserve forward Bobby Portis put on a first-half show with 28 of his 33 points.

Walker’s night was punctuated by a 3-point play in the fourth quarter when he somehow got the ball through the rim despite Bulls forward Zach LaVine hacking him. Walker made the resulting free throw as the Hornets built a double-digit lead.

Three who mattered

Portis: He topped his previous season high of 26 points before halftime.

Malik Monk: Another strong fourth quarter offensively with nine of his 18 points.

Walker: He was great at getting himself to the foul line, with 14 attempts, making 13.

Observations

▪ Hornets center Cody Zeller is close enough to playing again, after fracturing his right hand New Year’s Eve, that coach James Borrego is hopeful Zeller could be activated within a week. Zeller missed his 16th consecutive game Saturday.

▪ Borrego said following Friday’s victory over the Memphis Grizzlies that Malik Monk’s play of late is pushing him to play Monk more. By the nature of the rotation, that would likely eat into the minutes of starting shooting guard Jeremy Lamb, who is an unrestricted free agent in July.

▪ The Hornets’ bench is much improved this season. When I asked Monk about that, he said all the credit goes to what veteran point guard Tony Parker does to keep the second unit organized.

▪ Walker took advantage of a fundamental mistake - the Bulls not blocking him out as the foul shooter on a miss - to get back possession and hit a 3-pointer in the third quarter.

▪ Walker’s penetration with the ball was big in tying this game late in the third quarter: He had two layups, then two free throws to tie it at 79-79.

Worth mentioning

▪ The Hornets’ interior defense was so porous in the first quarter that the Bulls scored 18 of their 26 points in the lane.

▪ This was Walker’s 14th game this season of 30 or more points.

They said it

“I’d like to get him back into the mix as soon as possible, throw him in the fire and see what we’ve got.” – Borrego on Zeller getting close to a return from a broken hand.

“It’s not like Cody’s going on the floor and he’s a new player. I don’t think it’s going to take a while to get back in a rhythm with Cody because he’s just been around so long.”. – more from Borrego on Zeller’s impending return.

“His shot-making ability can depress you.” - Bulls coach Jim Boylen on Walker.

Report card

B OFFENSE: A good job of getting to the foul line.

C DEFENSE: Portis is a dangerous offensive player, but it took forever for the Hornets to slow him down.

B - COACHING: After losing to the Bulls, Cavaliers, Hawks and Knicks, there is nothing about “easy” games the Hornets can afford to view as easy.

Rick Bonnell is a sportswriter/columnist for the Charlotte Observer. He has been in Charlotte since 1988, when the NBA arrived, and has covered the Hornets continuously. A former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association, Bonnell also writes occasionally on the NFL and college sports.
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