Lance Stephenson was having a bad Hornets debut with eight minutes left in the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game against the Bucks.
He had zero points on four shots, and his fifth shot was a layup that got blocked. That turned into a fast-break dunk, which led to a Hornets timeout.
Stephenson walked slowly back to the bench with his head down. The only thing missing was Charlie Brown’s music.
But while Stephenson’s shot lagged in Wednesday’s 108-106 overtime win, the Hornets’ hottest free-agent signing made up for it with his ball distribution and hard work on the glass. Even though he finished with just seven points, he led the Hornets in assists (eight) and rebounds (13) in the win.
“I mean I’m still frustrated,” Stephenson said after the game. “If I’m not scoring I’m going to do other things. I’m going to pass it to my teammates, rebound, play a little defense and help us win. I’m struggling on the offensive end, but I’ll just keep playing.”
Hornets coach Steve Clifford estimated Stephenson had been limited in practice for at least the past 10 days with a groin injury, and it showed on the court Wednesday.
The Hornets played his rap song, which he made in the offseason, during warmups. But Stephenson said he didn’t know because he was so excited to debut with Charlotte after signing a three-year, $27 million contract.
“I was so hyped I didn’t even hear it,” Stephenson said. “It’s the first game and I just wanted to play so well. Something wasn’t falling – my jump shot.”
Stephenson’s blocked layup that led to a Jabari Parker dunk gave the Bucks an 18-point lead. It would go up to 24 points midway through the third quarter before the Hornets mounted the largest comeback in the history of a Charlotte NBA franchise.
Stephenson made a driving, one-handed layup with 5:49 left in the third quarter that cut the deficit to 20 but also allowed the crowd – fully aware of Stephenson’s struggles – to give its biggest cheer since the first quarter.
Late in the third quarter, Stephenson took a hesitant pass from Al Jefferson at the top of the key, dribbled twice and dunked over Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders with one hand to give the crowd another reason to cheer.
Those were two of Stephenson’s three made field goals, while he missed nine others.
“To me, his exceptional trait is that he can play well in every phase of the game,” Clifford said. “I don’t think he’s right now a great offensive player, but he’s very good. But he’s also a very good defender and a very good rebounder. And that to me is why he can become an upper echelon player. He’s going to have nights where he can play well in all three facets of the game, which not many perimeter players can.”
Before Stephenson left the game with leg cramps, he was able to dish underneath to Cody Zeller for a dunk in the third quarter to cut the deficit to single digits. In overtime, he found Marvin Williams for a 3-pointer that tied the game at 102.
“Even though Lance didn’t do well on the scoreboard tonight, 13 rebounds and eight assists …that’s what he does,” Jefferson said. “That’s being an all-around player.”