So how in the world did the Charlotte Hornets end this 10-game losing streak to the San Antonio Spurs?
“We definitely stole this one,” guard Jeremy Lin said Monday.
“They’re No. 1 in defense and No. 3 in offense. There’s no weakness really. We got lucky tonight. To beat San Antonio normally you need sustained play for all 48 minutes – solid play. I’m sure there were a lot of things they could have done better.”
If this was a theft, then Lin was the expert cat burglar. He came off the bench for a game-high 29 points, making 11-of-18 from the field and 4-of-4 from the 3-point line.
The Hornets needed Lin Monday because starter Kemba Walker looked exhausted, finishing with six points on 2-of-11 shooting. And Lin needed this game because, by his own admission, he’s struggled of late.
Lin shot 8-of-25 from the field in his three previous games. Though he made some huge free throws late in last week’s road victory over the Miami Heat, his shaky play that night cut back his minutes in the second half.
Here’s the deal: Lin has been working with a basketball trainer, fine-tuning his shot, with some slightly different technique (he didn’t elaborate) than how he previously delivered. He’s put in a lot of extra work on his own, but in some ways it’s been a step back.
He said the old technique and the new one have sometimes blurred into a mess. So he needed a performance like Monday to reinforce his confidence in himself and his teammates’ and coaches’ confidence in him.
The Hornets had no business being in this game. They trailed 30-7 in the first quarter. Lin recalled precisely when things changed: He missed a defensive assignment, which caused coach Steve Clifford to call timeout. From that point, midway through the second quarter, the intensity and execution changed.
The Spurs, who have lost only 11 games this season, got uncharacteristically sloppy in the third quarter, committing seven turnovers.
What so dramatically changed in that timeout? Clifford was asked what he said. He reacted with levity.
“Please play harder.” Clifford said in a clingy, desperate voice that drew laughs in the post-game news conference.
Clifford went on to joke that the players took a vote on whether to play harder and it barely passed 8-7.
It’s been a weird stretch for these Hornets. You could argue – I did – that the victory in Miami was as consequential as any win since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004. Then they beat the Spurs who, as Lin noted, are as balanced as any team in the league as far as defensive and offensive efficiency.
In-between those victories the Hornets embarrassed themselves with a disinterested, flat loss at home to the lottery-bound Denver Nuggets.
What happened Monday? A little bit of Lin-sanity broke out, with Lin playing in the daring, crafty way he once charmed New York while playing for the Knicks.
“I would say that was my first game coming off the bench where I really got into that zone,” Lin said. “Most of the other games where I really had an outburst was when I started and was in the flow,”
Monday he was in the flow. In truth, he became that flow.