Between the sell-out, opening night and the name change, the Charlotte Hornets were an emotional mess Wednesday, especially early.
“We were all too amped up,” third-string point guard Jannero Pargo recalled.
So Pargo went to work on Kemba Walker’s head, telling him to stop stressing, that he’d get his chance because “from the first shot he wanted it too much.”
Dr. Pargo to the rescue. Walker made two huge jumpers – the first to force overtime, the second the game-winner with five seconds left – for a 108-106 victory at Time Warner Cable Arena.
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This became the biggest comeback in Charlotte NBA history. The Hornets trailed by 24 midway through the third quarter after Bucks guard Brandon Knight hit a corner 3-pointer on an assist by ex-Bobcat Jared Dudley.
That deficit was, to a great degree, about horrendous defense. The Hornets gave up 53 percent shooting from the field and 57 points to trail by 11 at halftime.
“It ticked me off,” coach Steve Clifford said of his team’s defense. “I know we’re capable of better.
“We’ve got a couple of guys who can really guard who aren’t guarding. They’re thinking about their offense.”
At the other end the Bucks aggressively double-teamed the ball away from Hornets center Al Jefferson. He got just seven shot attempts in the first half and the Hornets weren’t shooting well enough to punish the Bucks for that strategy.
“They had us on our heels with all their sagging and doubling,” Clifford said. “They were telling us, ‘Go shoot.’ ”
The shooting was nothing special. New Hornet Lance Stephenson missed his first seven attempts before making a runner. Stephenson finished the game 3-of-12 from the field and his body language screamed frustration.
Stephenson, back from a groin strain, developed a cramp that kept him out of the game late. If this one was to be won, it had to be Jefferson or Walker pulling it through.
“We were terrible at one point, but they (a sell-out crowd of 19,439) stuck with us,” said Walker.
“I struggled all game. I was kind of down and Jannero kept talking to me, saying, ‘You’ll get your shot.’ ”
Actually not one shot, but two. Bucks forward Khris Middleton missed one of two free throws with 7.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter. That kept it a three-point margin. The Hornets were out of timeouts, so Walker had to advance the ball to a viable 3-point attempt without the benefit of in-bounding from mid-court.
He launched with 1.6 seconds left, swishing it through the net to force overtime.
“His competitiveness is contagious and he has courage,” Clifford said of Walker.
Shooting guard Gary Neal gave the Hornets their chance in overtime, tying the game with a layup with 44 seconds left. That was after the Hornets committed three shot-clock violations in the extra period.
Bucks rookie Jabari Parker missed a seven-foot jump shot with 29 seconds left, giving the Hornets possession for a go-ahead attempt.
Clifford noticed Walker was moving strangely – it was a cramp in his calf – so asked Walker if he was up to deciding this game. Walker’s answer: “I’ve got one left.”
Walker might not be a great shooter, but he’s capable of huge shots. His pull-up 21-footer with five seconds left was all of that.
“I love being in those last-shot situations,” said Walker, who will sign a four-year $48 million contract extension to remain a Hornet.
“I know what I’m capable of doing. A leader takes responsibility whether it’s a win or a loss.”
Wednesday Walker was the difference between one and the other.
HORNETS 108, BUCKS 106, OT
Percentages: FG .488, FT .875. Three-Point Goals: 7-14, .500 (Mayo 3-6, Knight 2-4, Antetokounmpo 1-1, Dudley 1-1, Middleton 0-2). Team Rebounds: 11. Team Turnovers: 15 (9 PTS). Blocked Shots: 10 (Henson 2, Antetokounmpo, Dudley, Ilyasova, Knight, Mayo, Middleton, Pachulia, Sanders). Turnovers: 14 (Knight 4, Middleton 4, Pachulia 3, Bayless, Dudley, Mayo). Steals: 9 (Dudley 2, Ilyasova 2, Pachulia 2, Sanders 2, Parker). Technical Fouls: Dudley, 9:01 third.
Percentages: FG .406, FT .690. Three-Point Goals: 6-21, .286 (Williams 3-6, Walker 3-9, Roberts 0-1, Stephenson 0-2, Neal 0-3). Team Rebounds: 17. Team Turnovers: 13 (17 PTS). Blocked Shots: 9 (Jefferson 4, Kidd-Gilchrist 3, Maxiell, Walker). Turnovers: 10 (Jefferson 2, Stephenson 2, Williams 2, Zeller 2, Henderson, Kidd-Gilchrist). Steals: 8 (Jefferson 2, Henderson, Neal, Roberts, Walker, Williams, Zeller). Technical Fouls: Walker, 6:32 first.
Att.—19,439 (19,077). T—2:34.
Officials—James Capers, Eric Lewis, Eli Roe.