Typically, when the game is close and the Hornets need clutch shooting, they turn to their starting point guard.
Against the Cleveland Cavaliers, that’s exactly what the Hornets did – except it was unlike anything they’ve tried before.
With starting point guard Kemba Walker missing his first game this season thanks to a sore left knee, Jeremy Lin not only slid into his starting role, but shouldered Walker’s typical offensive load in leading the Hornets to a 106-97 victory over the Cavaliers on Wednesday.
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Lin had 24 points on 7-for-13 shooting and added eight assists. His 11 points in the third quarter pushed the Hornets from a 69-67 deficit to a 75-69 advantage in an 8-0 run when he contributed six points.
And when the Cavaliers made a run at the end – after two LeBron James dunks and a 3-pointer from Kevin Love – Lin sank a fadeaway jumper with two minutes remaining that pushed the Hornets advantage back to 10 points.
The Hornets used their 10th different starting lineup of the season. With the rash of injuries they’ve endured, it was nothing new.
“Unfortunately, we’re almost used to playing with different lineups and different guys just because we’ve had so many injuries and guys in and out of the lineup,” said Cody Zeller, who played Wednesday for the first time in six games. “I think our team has changed a lot throughout the season, so we just kind of play with whoever’s healthy.”
Three who mattered
Jeremy Lin: A rare start at point guard in place of the injured Walker, Lin started slowly but erupted for 11 points in the second quarter to help the Hornets grab the lead they held onto for the remainder of the game. He finished with 24 points on 7-for-13 shooting, and added eight assists and five rebounds.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: In his third game back from injury, he had his worst shooting performance yet (5-for-14, 11 points), but was vital to the victory in his most impactful ways: rebounding and defense. He finished with 13 rebounds and was charged with slowing down LeBron James (23 points) for most of the night.
Frank Kaminsky: The rookie had 10 points in the second quarter, helping keep the Hornets in the game when the Cavaliers outscored Charlotte 35-26 in that period. Kaminsky finished with 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting and six rebounds.
▪ The Cavaliers finished the first half with a 13-1 run that lifted them from down by three to a 58-49 advantage. The key in that stretch were two dagger shots: The first was a Kevin Love 3-pointer that came on a perfectly executed overhead, behind-the-head, two-handed pass from LeBron James. The second was a 3-pointer from J.R. Smith at the halftime buzzer that resulted in a skipping dance of celebration by Smith and Love at midcourt.
▪ The Hornets destroyed the Cavaliers on the boards, outrebounding Cleveland 49-28. Kidd-Gilchrist led with 13 rebounds, while Cody Zeller contributed seven.
▪ Kyrie Irving drew gasps from the crowd at Time Warner Cable Arena with his ball-handling abilities and blew by Lin with ease en route to layups several times. Most notably, Irving’s crossover and one-handed scooping layup just 2 minutes, 43 seconds into the game that gave the Cavaliers a 9-5 lead, and his head-down driving layup with 8:18 left in the second quarter that gave Cleveland a 34-32 edge.
▪ Spencer Hawes battled for a rebound with everyone’s favorite antagonist, J.R. Smith, with 5:49 remaining. Hawes used his elbows to clear Smith off the ball, and stared down the Cavaliers guard – to the delight of the cheering crowd. One play later, the two battled for the ball again – and Smith shoved Hawes as emotions boiled over. Smith earned a technical foul while Hawes was charged with an offensive foul.
▪ The Hornets held Cleveland to 39 points in the second half, limiting the Cavaliers to 45.8 percent shooting.
▪ Kemba Walker had an MRI on his sore left knee, Clifford said, and no structural damage was discovered. The coach is hopeful Walker will be able to play Friday against the Miami Heat. “The big thing is he’s sore,” Clifford said. “He was really sore and he’s played a lot of minutes, obviously, and has gotten a lot of attention.”
▪ Clifford said he must monitor minutes of three players returning from injury: Zeller, Lamb and Nicolas Batum. The plan was to watch the minutes of Kidd-Gilchrist, too, but that concern dissipated after one game. “But I’ve never really seen anyone come off an injury and been out that long and play as many minutes as he did the first night [against Portland],” Clifford said. “He did everything he could from a conditioning standpoint, from a rehab standpoint and a skill standpoint to give himself a chance to play well. We’ll see. It’s like anything. He’ll have to play a few games. I’m sure he’s going to have games where he’s not quite as good, but he’s certainly given us a big lift.”
▪ Wednesday was the start of a four-game homestand for the Hornets, their last stretch in Charlotte before a six-game road trip. They host Miami on Friday.
They said it
“I can’t say enough good things about him, man. I’m just so glad he’s back. He does so much for us defensively, offensively. The thing I’ve been really impressed with is actually how he’s been able to sustain consistent play for 37 minutes after not playing for so long. He’s just a freak of nature.” – Jeremy Lin on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
“He wants the ball at the end of the game. If you’ve watched his career, he like to take the big shots.” – Steve Clifford on Jeremy Lin.
“We needed it. All the effort baskets, all the hustle plays. We need those down the stretch to get wins.” – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the Hornets’ 49-28 rebounding advantage.