Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford used the word “disorganized” Saturday almost as often as his team missed shots in a 71-69 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Disorganized is how they played offensively over the first three quarters, generating just 46 points and committing 16 turnovers. And disorganized his how they played late defensively, giving up inside baskets to Memphis big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Those baskets (only two points were scored in the last minute of the game, both on Gasol’s layup) were the narrow difference in this one.
“The disappointing thing is if we defend those last three minutes we win this game,” Clifford said. “We bit on two shot fakes and you can’t do that in the NBA. Zach got a post catch and Gasol rolled to the basket.”
The Hornets made up a 14-point deficit, leading briefly in the fourth quarter. Kemba Walker missed a fadeaway 16-foot jump shot with 2.8 seconds left and then Memphis burned away the remaining clock to preserve a two-point victory.
The Hornets played the entire fourth quarter with their key off-season acquisition, shooting guard Lance Stephenson, on the bench. Stephenson shot 1-of-6 over the first three quarters. In his first two games as a Hornet he’s averaging 4.5 points on 4-of-18 shooting.
“We played better without him,” Clifford said of Stephenson’s fourth-quarter absence. “He didn’t play very well and he’s not alone.”
That approach has been Clifford’s policy since last February when he told the players no one deserved “developmental minutes” on a team viable to make the playoffs.
“I played with the team that played the best,” Clifford said. “I’m coaching to win.”
That team in the fourth quarter was Al Jefferson, Michael Kidd-Gilcihrist, Marvin Williams and Gary Neal. Walker played just 4 ½ minutes of the fourth, about half of the playing time his backup, Brian Roberts, got.
Stephenson was stoic in the post-game locker room when asked about not playing in the fourth quarter.
“Just struggling with my shots. Gotta get it going on the offensive end, just keep playing tough,” Stephenson said.
Will this be a long-term problem?
“I think we'll be all right. We've just got to not get frustrated, keep playing together, and just lock in on defense.”
The then-Bobcats’ unexpected success last season was about a precise, disciplined approach. They were last in the NBA in turnovers and fouls committed.
Saturday’s numbers – 20 turnovers and 16 fouls – suggest they have strayed from that approach so far this young season.
“What I saw in the fourth quarter was smart inside-out basketball. The ball got to the right people and they did what they know to do,” Clifford said.
“(The turnovers) killed us. It’s a result of being disorganized,” Clifford contrasted. “In a 24-second shot clock, you’ve got to get to your spots. If you’re going to be that disorganized against a good team, you’re going to turn the ball over.”
Jefferson recovered from an early slump (2-of-10 from the field) to lead the comeback. He scored seven of his team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter.
Jefferson said he and his teammates let their shooting woes distract them from beating the Grizzlies.
“We let us missing shots get us down, frustrated,” Jefferson said.
Then he endorsed Clifford’s point that this team is less scattered when the ball finds the lane every possession.
“Inside-out basketball is why we had the success we had,” Jefferson said. “That doesn’t just mean me, it’s pick-and-rolls, too. But it’s getting to ball to the paint.”