When Gerald Henderson saw the play coach Steve Clifford drew for the Charlotte Hornets’ last possession, Henderson had an epiphany.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m going to win this game,’ ” Henderson recalled.
That seemed unlikely, considering Henderson’s previous performance Saturday. He had missed nine of his previous 11 shots. But the Philadelphia 76ers’ defense overplayed Kemba Walker, leaving Henderson with a gaping hole He drove through that hole for the winning layup in a 92-91 victory.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford said afterward that Henderson was the last option on a play that was primarily designed to create a jump shot for Walker. But then a defensive switch by the Sixers changed everything.
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“I just saw this wide-open lane. I took it and finished,” Henderson described.
But the game wasn’t over. Six seconds remained and the Hornets needed a defensive stop. Sixers point guard Ish Smith, who grew up in Concord and played for Wake Forest, missed a desperation layup and Henderson grabbed the rebound that ended this one.
The Hornets are 33-43. The victory, combined with the Miami Heat’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, tightens the race for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But with six games left the Hornets’ margin for error is narrow.
“We’ve just got to win. We’ve lost a few games to teams right in the mix with us. Now Miami is right in that mix, too,” Henderson said.
The Hornets don’t play again until Tuesday against the Heat in Miami.
“Now we’ve got to win a game that most affects the standings,” Henderson said of Tuesday.
The Hornets were fortunate Saturday to be playing one of the NBA’s weakest teams in the 18-59 Sixers. The Hornets played without three starters – center Al Jefferson, small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and power forward Cody Zeller.
They trailed much of this game and it took big games from the Hornets’ two point guards to climb back to the lead. Walker finished with 24 points on 11-of-21 shooting. Mo Williams added 18 points. Williams shot only 5-of-17 (0-of-6 from 3-point range), but he got to the foul line eight times
The Hornets were scrambling for bodies Saturday. Bismack Biyombo started at center with Jason Maxiell as his backup. Marvin Williams started at power forward with rookie Noah Vonleh as his backup.
Clifford said he liked Vonleh’s energy, but had difficulty playing him in the second half when the Sixers went small in the frontcourt. The normal response to that would have been playing Kidd-Gilchrist at power forward, but he’s still out with a sprained ankle.
Clifford tried using Lance Stephenson in the first half but he missed all three of his shots in the first half and didn’t play in the second half.
Clifford felt gratified that a depleted team coming off a blowout loss to the Indiana Pacers Friday still had some fight.
“We fought hard,” Clifford said. “That was 10 games in 16 nights. We’ve dealt with a lot of disappointment.
“The thing is if we go there (Miami) and beat them, we have the tiebreaker with them. Six games, you think about, you (need to) go 4-2 or 5.1…
“This gives us a chance to play another meaningful game on Tuesday.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell