Michael Kidd-Gilchrist inflicts chaos. Tony Parker enforces calm.
Two entirely different effects on a basketball game, each of them missing with those two Charlotte Hornets hurt. They came back Monday and their impact echoed through 110-107 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
This is a Hornets team that just gave up 124 points to an Atlanta Hawks team that lost its previous 10 games. The defense was as bad Sunday as at any time this season, particularly in the lane, where the Hornets gave up 58 points.
Monday, the Bucks totaled 40 points in the paint and were limited to 41 percent shooting from the field. Maybe that wasn’t all Kidd-Gilchrist’s doing, but largely it was.
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“I don’t think it’s a coincidence we have that type of effort tonight with him back in the lineup,” coach James Borrego said. “We felt his absence the last four or five games.”
Kidd-Gilchrist, who missed six games with a sprained ankle, announced his presence with a spectacular first-half block of Bucks forward Khris Middleton. Kidd-Gilchrist caught Middleton from behind, slapping the ball in transition. This was the basketball equivalent of a blindside sack in football; a statement play that leaves opponents’ heads on a swivel the rest of the game.
It’s never been easy to assess Kidd-Gilchrist’s value from a box score, and Monday illustrated that: He finished with seven points and seven rebounds. The key number, though, was the Hornets outscored the Bucks by 18 points in the 18 minutes Kidd-Gilchrist played.
The Hornets signed Parker, 36, for numerous reasons: Experience, skill, leadership and to fill a screaming need for a backup to point guard Kemba Walker.
Beyond all that, what Borrego, who coached Parker as a San Antonio Spurs assistant, needed was someone to calm a team with a wretched track record in the clutch. Before Monday, the Hornets were 1-7 this season in games decided by four or fewer points. That annoyed Parker, because he considers “clutchness” one of the best things he brought with him from four championship seasons as a Spur.
“Tony back just steadies us,” Borrego said of Parker’s return from a rib contusion. “He helped us close that game out and (Sunday) we struggled to close that game out.
“He’s just a calming presence for us down the stretch.”
Specifically, Parker took charge of the offense for much of the fourth quarter, allowing Walker to play off the ball. Parker scored six of the Hornets’ 17 points in the fourth quarter, making three of his five shots from the field. He missed two free throws late, but otherwise, he was crucial in the late stretch when the Hornets are so prone to wilt.
“I think sometimes in the fourth quarter we get a little bit antsy, and Kemba has to do so much,” Parker said. “When we’re together on the court, I can bring some calm, make sure we’re in the right places, and make sure he gets some rest, too.
“We count on him to be great every night, but sometimes we’ve got to give him some help.”
I get asked a lot if Kidd-Gilchrist is overpaid at $13 million each this season and next. I appreciate why fans wonder: He’s a non-starter now and in a numbers-driven sports culture, his stats will never look flashy.
What those numbers can’t sufficiently reflect is the positive viral effect his energy, passion and physicality bring to the Hornets. He’s different from everyone else on this roster and the past few games showed they are appreciably lesser for his absence.
“Personally, that’s what I do for this team — get the loose balls, get the rebounds, stuff like that,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “Be a spark to my teammates. That was something I truly missed when I wasn’t out there.”
Borrego asked a lot of Kidd-Gilchrist in the way of change: That he would both come off the bench after starting his six previous NBA seasons and switch his primary position from small forward to power forward.
It has worked for the Hornets, both in opening a starting spot for Jeremy Lamb and for how it suits the ferocity with which Kidd-Gilchrist plays. It’s not natural for Kidd-Gilchrist to try to ration his energy or his fouls. So playing him fewer minutes has been a plus in that he can condense all that intensity into 20 minutes of burst.
His teammates sure get it.
“You saw it in tonight, especially in the second quarter,” Nic Batum said of the 6-of-22, 17-point period by the Bucks that gave the Hornets the lead.
“That him. I thought, ‘Oh, man, I miss that guy!”