Scott Fowler

Fowler: Charlotte Hornets, Lance Stephenson prevail in strange game

Maybe it was karma given this was Lance Stephenson bobblehead night, but Charlotte and Indiana combined for one seriously strange game full of missed shots Saturday evening.

The Hornets won, 80-71 in overtime, despite playing a game for the first time in past two seasons with both Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson out of the lineup. Charlotte missed 70 shots and shot only 30.7 percent – the lowest percentage ever for a Charlotte NBA team in a win – but played lockdown defense on a similarly depleted Indiana squad that also couldn’t score.

“That won’t be on ESPN Classic,” cracked Charlotte coach Steve Clifford after watching a game in which the two teams combined to shoot 4-for-36 from three-point range. “But that was a good win for our team.”

It was also a symbolic victory. This game was a peer review. The Hornets and Pacers are both flawed teams who are probably destined to spend the rest of the season fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

With Charlotte’s win – clinched by a 12-3 domination of Indiana in overtime – the Hornets (16-25) moved to within one game of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East at their season’s exact midpoint. Indiana (15-27) fell two games back after scoring the fewest number of points ever in the shot-clock era in an NBA overtime game.

That Charlotte could beat anybody without its two leading scorers and best players was a testament to some fine hustle and rebounding. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (16 rebounds) and Bismack Biyombo (14) allowed the Hornets to stick with the ruggedness of Roy Hibbert and David West underneath.

Stephenson playing against his old team was another juicy subplot. This is how quickly the Stephenson/Hornets relationship has gone sour – he almost got traded 48 hours before his bobblehead was given out to the announced home sellout crowd of 19,285 fans.

The Hornets had a contingency plan in which the bobbleheads wouldn’t have been handed out at all if Stephenson had been traded, and that had looked likely until the latest proposed deal fell apart.

Stephenson was his usual entertaining self. He scored 13 points, turned the ball over three of the first four times he touched it and shouldered Roy Hibbert to the ground 30 feet from the basket on a play that looked like a hockey check and which no official saw.

“I didn’t hit him that hard,” Stephenson said. “He flopped. You can’t knock down big Roy. C’mon now.”

Hibbert downplayed the contact from a player he considers a close friend, joking that Stephenson must have been lifting weights.

As usual, Clifford sat Stephenson down for the game’s most crucial minutes – Stephenson didn’t play for the final 6:26 of regulation or any of the overtime. Stephenson said he wasn’t going to get “frustrated,” though, and would happily stay in Charlotte if no trade went through.

Said Stephenson: “I want to be here. I feel I can definitely help this squad... It’s really not up to me.”

Stephenson did help some Saturday as the Hornets’ second-leading scorer behind only Gerald Henderson (20 points on 6-of-19 shooting). It took both the Hornets and Pacers four quarters to get to 68 points Saturday; Golden State had 64 in its game Saturday by halftime.

I started a question to Henderson in the locker room after the game by saying: “Gerald, that was the lowest shooting percentage...”

“In NBA history?” Henderson laughingly interrupted.

It seemed that way. But the Hornets still managed to win, and that’s saying something. I don’t know exactly what – but the Hornets are a game out of the playoff chase halfway through the season.

And Stephenson’s head is now bobbling all over the Carolinas. What a strange – and successful – night for Charlotte.