For the Charlotte Hornets this has become an ugly habit:
Get into a tight fourth quarter, forget about boxing out under the defensive boards, get beaten at the buzzer.
This time it was Indiana Pacers guard Solomon Hill grabbing teammate Rodney Stuckey’s missed jump shot, twisting to lay the ball through the rim and hearing the final horn.
Pacers 88, Hornets 86.
The Hornets are a disappointing 4-8, and one of the things that made them so competitive last season – defensive rebounding – has eroded alarmingly.
“Thirteen (Indiana) offensive rebounds in the second half,” Pacer-turned-Hornet Lance Stephenson noted. “That gets you beat.”
Those 13 offensive boards led to 13 Pacers points. The Hornets led this one by as many as 15 points. It would have been a nice road win with center Al Jefferson totaling 28 points and eight rebounds. Instead it left coach Steve Clifford hoarse and frustrated.
“Lance did a good job (guarding) Stuckey, it came up short and then, whatever, the guy got the ball in,” Clifford said.
Stephenson, playing his first game against his former team, said he got a piece of Stuckey’s 17-foot jump shot and should have alerted his teammates he’d changed the shot’s trajectory.
Perhaps that would have helped, but the point is no one blocked out. Last season the then-Bobcats led the NBA in defensive rebound percentage. This season they are fourth in that category.
While that is still statistically elite, they’ve now blown two leads by giving up key fourth-quarter offensive rebounds. The Portland Trail Blazers overcame a 23-point deficit at home against the Hornets, and offensive rebounding played a huge role in that fourth quarter.
“We lost the game in Portland because we weren’t physical enough, and it happened again tonight. We’ve got to hit,” Clifford said of blocking out opponents under the boards. “We’ve got to have everybody ready. We’ve watched a lot of film on that. We’ve got to have everybody ready. If we’re not physical, we’re not winning these games.”
The difference from last season to this one?
“We were bigger – we were a bigger team last year,” Clifford said, an apparent reference to the loss of power forward Josh McRoberts.
This was an emotional game for Stephenson, who spent his first four seasons as a Pacer before signing in July with the Hornets for three years and $27.4 million. He got a round of applause when he was initially introduced, but there was booing whenever he touched the ball.
Stephenson ended up with 10 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. He shot 4-of-12 from the field and committed two turnovers that appeared a function of over-dribbling.
“I’m just happy to be back, seeing my old friends,” Stephenson said.
“We played tough defense but 13 offensive rebounds, that’s what killed us. We’re small; we have to block out.”
Pacers center Roy Hibbert finished the game with 18 points and 11 rebounds. But Stephenson managed to block his shot, a bit of a coup for a 6-foot-5 player.
“That’s my guy; Roy is my guy. He always blocked my shot in practice, and I blocked his in a game,” Stephenson said.
“But it doesn’t matter because we lost.”