It was one of those “You had to be there” moments.
Retelling Hornets coach Steve Clifford’s seething postgame rant doesn’t do justice to just how frustrated Charlotte’s head man was – and deservedly so, after the Hornets choked away a 10-point lead to lose to the Miami Heat 106-105 on Saturday night at Spectrum Center.
“We absolutely butchered the fourth quarter, starting with the first two possessions,” Clifford said. “We were up 10, then made a mistake on the first play on (Miami forward Kelly) Olynyk with stuff we went over yesterday and today.
“On the second play on Olynyk, we made another mistake and it goes from 10 to four. We get the starters back in, get it back to 10 and just give (Wayne) Ellington a 3. Right when the game is at about five and a half and we had the chance to put the game away ... it was just a terrible effort. That’s what you get.”
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Phew. But yeah, there’s more.
“We made some mistakes late and a couple of turnovers, but that game should have been a 10- or 15-point win if we defend the way we were supposed to,” Clifford said. “I’d say in the fourth quarter alone we made six or seven mistakes on stuff that was covered yesterday, worked on live and then we did it again this morning. And that’s how you become a team that wins two and loses one, like we have been.
“Just total lack of concentration, intensity, technique and understanding who the hell you’re playing against. It’s terrible. Terrible. Again, you know Olynyk can really score – two mistakes it goes from 10 to four. Ellington crushed us. Game is almost over and you’re just hanging on for dear life, and we give them a 3 on a play they’ve been running for five years.”
Clifford took no other questions, and he certainly didn’t need to.
He explained the loss – from Olynyk’s back-to-back 3-pointers late in the game to cut Miami’s deficit to four, to Nic Batum having the ball stolen, to it getting kicked to James Johnson for the tying 3 – all in a few minutes.
The current home stretch is basically do-or-die for the team’s playoff chances – and that in itself is telling this early in January. With the way the Hornets’ schedule was front-loaded with home games (and the team’s propensity for losing on the road), this homestand is almost like a tipping point for the season.
And a loss like that – after clawing back from an 11-point lead, after building a double-digit cushion, after Nic Batum’s season-high 26 and Kemba Walker’s 22 – tips the remainder of the season in the wrong direction.
The Hornets current predicament, starting with Sacramento on Monday, looks like this:
Win, and there’s a chance to sneak into the playoffs, despite everything that has gone wrong this season.
Do... that again, and that chance is kaput.
The players understand that, too, even as trade rumors swirl surrounding Kemba Walker, the team’s All-Star point guard. Their heads were bowed in the locker room after Saturday’s game, their answers curt but as polite as can be considering their collapse minutes earlier.
All right, so there is one last thing Clifford said postgame before he walked out of the press room. It was less angry, more accepting. More forward-thinking, more responsible for the team’s current predicament after his first loss in his return from medical leave.
“It’s disappointing,” he said, “and it’s got to change.”