The Charlotte Hornets trailed by 13 in the third quarter. The evening was a reminder of so many others this season. New Orleans played with more energy than Charlotte. And while the Pelicans are not a great team, they feature Anthony Davis, who is a great player. That apparently would be sufficient.
And then it wasn’t. As the game wound down, Kemba Walker became Kemba Walker, Charlotte’s version of Davis albeit a foot or so shorter. Walker was the star, but many of his teammates were invaluable, notably Gerald Henderson and Jason Maxiell, and also Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (double-double) and Brian Roberts (10 points in fewer than 12 minutes).
The score was tied at 94 on the last possession that would matter. Walker had the ball and went right with Jrue Holiday attached to him. Walker is listed at 6-foot-1 and Holiday is 6-4. Wearing Holiday like a drape – Holiday was draped across him – Walker went to the hoop, drew the foul, hung in the air, shot the shot and, from an angle so unlikely it almost should be banned, the ball went in the basket.
This was one of those shots that, no matter where you sat, you looked at the person next to you and yelled. Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, who sat at courtside and earlier received a massive ovation and who is accustomed to fans reacting to him, reacted.
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The shot defied gravity and the drape defense of Holiday. Walker added a free throw and the Hornets added a victory – 98-94.
A lot of fans think Walker shoots too much, but he scored 31 points Wednesday night. And when he scores 30 or more points, the Hornets are 11-3.
The crowd of 15,171 at Time Warner Cable Arena was loud and appreciative and, when it had a reason to cheer, had been all night. The attendance was impressive for a weekday evening with weather that suggested Anchorage or Nome.
Could the Hornets make a playoff run in the Eastern Conference, which is to the NBA what the NFC South was to the NFL South? The Panthers, obviously, became good when they needed to. At 13-24, it’s unlikely for the Hornets. But a conclusion such as Wednesday’s, when the Hornets outscored the Pelicans by seven in the fourth quarter, is an inducement to show up and enjoy the show.
Monty Williams, who coaches the Pelicans and whose team dropped to 17-18 in the tough Western Conference, said, “We fell apart. We didn’t share the ball, which is what we have been talking about especially down the stretch.”
Charlotte coach Steve Clifford, in turn, could talk about second-half energy, aggressive offense and sharing the ball.
“I think the guys that were really energetic were Jason (Maxiell) and Gerald (Henderson),” Clifford said.
Henderson scored 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and passed for a team-high six assists. Maxiell scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds, three of the rebounds offensive.
Maxiell, a 6-7 and 260-pound afterthought when the season began, looks like a player from last season’s Charlotte playoff team. He’s selfless and what his team requires he gives. The further we get from that team, of course, the more idyllic it sounds.
Maxiell, at 32 Charlotte’s second-oldest player, went against bigger men with bigger contracts and imposed himself, often keeping the ball alive for teammates to fight for. When the game mattered most, so did he. Maxiell scored seven fourth-quarter points, grabbed three fourth-quarter rebounds and blocked one of Davis’ shots.
“He’s a pro’s pro,” says Clifford. “The nights when he doesn’t play he tries to help the younger guys. He does the same thing in practice every day. He has a high IQ and he knows the game.”
So of course Thomas Davis, who likely has other responsibilities this week, stayed until the game ended.
The outcome came down to a spectacular shot. But it also came down to poise and purpose and everybody knowing what they needed to do and doing it. This was his kind of game.