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Hornets 104, Knicks 96: “This one is on Thibs”

The second unit almost saves it.

NBA: New York Knicks at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets sizzled to start the season 5-2, but fizzled and lost five straight. They brought a 6-7 record into Friday’s game against the Knicks.

On Wednesday, New York lost an ugly one to the Bucks. With a record of 2-4 at home and 5-1 away, the Bockers must have been relieved to be on the road again, against a beatable team.

If you’d watched only the first half of this one, you’d be relieved, too. The Knickerbockers were dominating. They had a sizeable lead. However, if you’ve tuned in regularly this season, you could guess what would happen after intermission.

Cue the Thibs soundbite about not yet being a 48-minute team….

Let’s go back to 2011. That year, Charlotte drafted Kemba Walker ninth. He played eight seasons there, was a three-time All-Star, and left as the Hornets’ all-time leading scorer. One day, Charlotte will retire his jersey. Word is, he still owns a house in the area (cannot confirm if it’s available on Airbnb).

Tonight, Kemba started sublimely in his stadium of origin. He hit two threes, one from each elbow, and a floater for eight straight points. He scored 14 out of the Knicks’ first 21 points.

Mitchell Robinson was looking good, too. He jammed a nice follow-up dunk …but soon after stepped on an opponent’s foot and limped badly. Mitchell scares seem like nightly occurrences.

“I think he’s adjusting to the weight gain,” quipped Clyde. WCF said he once lost too much weight and was then “Too quick.” Clyde was in top form tonight.

Taj subbed in around the 8:00 mark. Mitch went to the locker room. Viewers at home prepared to hear the worst.

Meanwhile, RJ played a stinker of a game. These were his only two points:

His only two points OF THE GAME. Sigh. Alec Burks subbed in for Barrett at 4:50. He drilled threes from the left elbow and the corner, then added a sweet block on a Cody Martin dunk attempt. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I maintain that Alec Burk is underrated. Discuss.

Back to Kemba…He had 20 points in the first half. He scored two points in Wednesday’s loss to the Bucks. Too bad he can’t play former teams every night.

Julius Randle had good hands-on D early on. E.g., He broke up a transition pass when the Hornets had him outnumbered. In the first quarter, he scored zip but was a +16. That’s stats for ya.

With the Knicks up 34-18, coach rolled out the second unit to start Q2.

Taj Gibson picked up a quick second foul, and Mitch subbed back in—a sigh of relief spread through Knickdom. Soon after, Obi Toppin found Mitch for a stuff.

Karma rewards generosity. Here’s Immanuel Quickley giving Toppin a slam of his own:

Quickley and Toppin are so much fun to watch. Quickley harassed on defense tonight. Toppin was a dervish in the paint, lurching and launching for rebounds. Obi would finish the game with seven points and eight boards, but his big body was ubiquitous on the floor.

Thibs must have lit a fire under his squad after the Bucks loss. Early on, both units seemed motivated (excepting RJ and Evan Fournier). The Knicks grabbed offensive boards, capitalized on second-chance opportunities, and played energetic defense. Charlotte tried to match the intensity and even applied a full-court press on occasion. They just couldn’t hang when the Knicks played with discipline and harmony.

Mid-second quarter, however, both teams got sloppy. Careless passing and fouling ensued. Here’s RJ getting some of Thibs’ ire:

When Miles Bridges stepped to the charity stripe with 4:16 to go, the Knicks were up 45-34. They could have doubled that differential by giving a consistent effort. Instead, the Knicks let the Hornets close the gap to eight points.

With his team letting go of the rope, Randle stepped up for his first buckets of the night and put New York back up by 13.

A strong three-point play by Bridges ended the half. Although the more dominant team in the first frame, the Knicks were only up 55-46. The good news was, New York held the Hornets to 12% from three in the first half. The bad news: no half-time lead is safe for these Knicks.

New York came out “stumbling and bumbling” (quoth Clyde) in the third. Hayward opened things with a three-point play. Fournier coughed up the rock, and Hayward buzzed back for an easy bucket. A 16-point cushion was quickly sliced to four. Gordo hit an easy bunny soon after for his seventh point. Rozier drilled a three to tie the game 56-56. Thibs needed a time-out with 10:20 to play.

Still, the Knicks were coming unglued. Charlotte hit transition buckets. Randle and Barrett whiffed from long (and short). Sloppy ball-handling and poor communication on defense. The Hornets were up 68-60 when Thibs burned his second time-out. By then, the Hornets had outscored the Knicks 22-5 in Q3.

Smart passing and a wide-open Plumlee dunk put the Hornets up by 10. Thibs nearly dislocated a shoulder waving for Taj to get off the bench and check in for Robinson. Mitch would end his night with 11 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes. He seems to be playing through pain. Nerlens Noel had better heal up quickly.

Hornets coach James Borrego called for time at 3:10 with his team up 75-66. According to Clyde, the Hornets have the worst defense in the league. They were swarming and pressuring, though, and sure didn’t look too awful with an 11-point lead.

Thibs sent the reserves back in and Derrick Rose promptly canned a three. The second unit plays so effortlessly compared to the starters. Immanuel Quickley hit two straight threes to close the third. His efforts narrowed the score to 80-76. Once again, the back-ups did what the better-paid guys could not.

The second unit started the fourth. They continued to play great defense, forcing the Hornets into bad shots and turnovers. Obi was working the glass. Burks was a dynamo, forcing two turnovers and adding a bucket. See previous praise.

Quickley chipped in his third three of the game to make it 83-82. He’s turned a corner in recent games, shooting with more confidence and accuracy. Remember that Quick tied the score toward the end of the Bucks game, too… He had nine of the Knicks’ first 12 points in the quarter.

Borrego needed another time out to cool Quickley’s momentum. After that, Burks turned a defensive rebound into an assist on a Toppin jam. Then Alec drilled a three from the corner. The Knicks were up 87-86.

Kelly Oubre started to cook, but D-Rose wouldn’t quit, collecting four straight in the paint.

Oh, and Dunker’s Delight, Jr gave us this windmill and a 93-91 lead:

It isn’t just that the second-unit plays better, they’re just more fun to watch. The energy shift is obvious when they take the floor.

Anyway, not to be outdone, Bridges threw down a jam in response to Obi’s. Bastard.

Then…inexplicably, Thibs sent in this line-up: Walker, Barrett, Burks, Quickley, and Randle. Immediately, the score jumped by five points, to 98-93. Coach needed another time out to stop the bleeding. 2:12 remaining, and it was too late.

The Hornets were on a 12-5 run. LaMelo stole Walker’s inbound pass and cashed it in for two. Randle bricked three straight free throws. Cardiac Kemba flatlined and missed a couple. There was another grueling stop in action while the officials reviewed an out-of-bounds ball. It just postponed the inevitable.

Bridges blocked a Kemba layup on the final offensive possession. ’Twas a fitting end to a game that the Knicks simply gave away.


  • The Hornets have never won a championship, conference, or division title. Ouch. Charlotte has retired only one number. Guess whose?
  • In the last four third quarters, the Knicks have been outscored by 46 points. Whatever the starters are doing during halftime, they should stop.
  • I adore Muggsy Bogues. In 1993-94, the 5’3” point guard averaged 10.8 points, 10.1 assists, and 4.1 rebounds in 77 games, 36 minutes per game for Charlotte. I stood three inches taller (probably still do), and to see Muggsy play would always fill me with irrational hope of reaching the NBA one day. Dude lasted 14 years in the league. Still a favorite.
  • LaMelo Ball scored a quiet seven points and grabbed seven rebounds in the first half. At one point, he mismanaged the clock for a 24-second violation. He can still look pretty green at times. Master of the backhanded compliment, Clyde said of Ball, “[He’s] very unorthodox in his shooting, all off-balance, but that’s how he plays the game.” Like I said, top form…. LaMelo would close the game strong, with 12 points, 17 rebounds, and nine assists.
  • All the Knicks starters finished negative in the +/- column. Randle -18. Robinson -9. Walker -23. Fournier -11. Barrett -17. See next bullet.
  • All the Knicks’ second-stringers finished positive in the +/- column. Toppin +10. Gibson +6. Rose +15. Burks +4. Quickley +3. See next bullet.
  • With Derrick Rose on the floor, the Knicks have outscored their opponents by 95 points. Q for the crowd: who will be New York’s starting point guard 20 games from now?
  • The word is that Rose turned an ankle prior to Kemba’s last substitution. Praying the injury isn’t serious.
  • Flint, Michigan’s own Miles Bridges is having a break-out-year in points (21.3), rebounds (7.5), assists (3.5), and steals (1.8). New York struggled to contain the young buck tonight. He finished with 24 points, four rebounds, and four assists.
  • Before tonight, the Knicks were sixth in the league in scoring with 111 ppg. They could only muster 96 against the worst defense in the league. Where’s your panic meter at, Knicks fans?
  • Michael Jordan was present to watch his team. He didn’t invite Scottie Pippen to join him this time. I heard Pip’s got a book out and do not care.
  • The only Hornet honored in the rafters at the Spectrum Center is Bobby Ray Phills II. Not Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Muggsy, Kendall Gill…the list goes on.

So sayeth HBK99, “This one is on Thibs. The bench had energy and he took them out!!!” I’m one of the biggest Thibs stans around, but I agree. Let’s see if Tom will turn the starters around for the next game, because playing backward might be an improvement.

Safe travels, Knickerbockers.