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Hornets 97, Knicks 87: “The Hornets just played harder”

The score says the Knicks lost by 10. The score lies.

Charlotte Hornets v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A little over a week ago, the Charlotte Hornets went on a four-game winning streak that included consecutive victories over the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks followed by a win in Philadelphia. They followed that with a home loss to Orlando, a game in which the Magic, who are not the ‘86 Celtics, pummeled Charlotte in the paint and at the rim. Shortly before yesterday’s tip, star guard LaMelo Ball was held out though technically available with a non-Covid illness, one that must not be contagious based on his laissez-faire mask-wearing on the bench. The Knicks had won five straight at home and were rumored to be getting Kemba Walker back for this one. Everything pointed to a New York W.

Natch the visitors led throughout and won 97-87. Madison Square Garden finally got to see 2021 Julius Randle again, albeit in the person of Miles Emmanuel Bridges. The KTP alum hit 10 of his first 11 shots, exploding for 22 in the opening quarter.

It was weird watching him be Randle while guarded by Randle.

Bridges was the catalyst for Charlotte going up double-digits early, but the Hornets to a man were active on both ends — “swarming,” a punster might quip. Cody Martin and Terry Rozier were keeping the Knick guards from getting to their spots or even getting into the offense. The Knick backcourt is as talented as it’s been pro’ly in my lifetime as a fan. Some nights, even some stretches of season you barely notice Kemba or Derrick Rose are out. Other times, the simple act of getting into a set can leave Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley looking like Lucy and Ethel with the chocolates.

The odd thing about this game was that while the Hornets looked a step ahead of the Knicks, physically and mentally, they were pretty awful offensively. James Borrego’s team came into the game second in pace and third in offensive efficiency, but ignore Bridges’ numbers and the Hornets shot 33% from the field and 30% from 3-point range. Ignore Bridges at your peril.

As the half wound down they had a foul to give, Randle had all day to do so on Bridges but never did, Rozier ran from one sideline to another — which appeared to confuse Mitchell Robinson and Alec Burks to such an extent you wondered if they’d never seen someone move before — and hit a 3 to make it a 20-point lead at the break.

The third quarter was the stage where history repeated itself. Icarus was in many ways a good son. Doesn’t mean he was meant to fly.

The Hornets were missing their best player, yet the best player on either team was still theirs. Bridges ended with a career-high 38 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and five 3s. His is a beautiful energy. It’s not fun watching some guys kill your team. James Harden is excruciating to watch do it. Some players are just so fun, have such artistry, you can’t help but appreciate their performance. Bridges is an artist.

There were other threads. I’d describe the referees’ performance as uneven and the Knicks’ real-time reactions to that performance uninspiring. Rozier was at times unstoppable, in the peculiar manner of one whose impact is either pedestrian or Leviathan and never in-between. But in a game where Mason Plumlee was one of only two Hornets to make at least half their shots and the Knicks shot 40% from the floor and missed about half their free throws, Bridges was the difference-maker. Losing’s never fun. But if you’re lucky, it’s entertaining.

Notes

  • This was unexpected.

There was a point when Mitch went up that I worried he’d pull a Daniel Jones and fail to stick the landing, but he did. Of course, as far as sticking the landing, I’ve seen better this week.

  • Quentin Grimes has a Charles Oakley-type quickness when it comes to diving after loose balls. You know how some guys have a quick first step, some can stop on a dime, some can jump quick? Grimes hits the floor quick.
  • A nice second quarter sequence for Obi Toppin. He contested a shot at the rim, then on offense hit a corner 3, then grabbed a defensive rebound on Charlotte’s next possession, then on their next he kept a live ball he couldn’t grab in play so Grimes could, then on offense took it right at Jaden McDaniels and scored. The crowd was chanting for him later in the game.
  • Three points in 14 minutes for Clyde’s adopted son, Ish Smith.
  • Those Charlotte jerseys...soooo nice.
  • Today’s palindromes: Charlotte led 32-23 and 97-79.
  • Merry 64th born day to Tom Thibodeau. I wonder if deep down he maybe wanted a loss for his birthday. All the more reason to push harder tomorrow.

Quoth DWilTheCommunityAdvocate: “...the Hornets just played harder.” They looked it. Then again, they were also having more success. Not always, but def sometimes winning puts you in positions to look active and losing makes you appear passive, even if you’re not. The Hornets are a solid rim-protecting team, something that gives the Knicks problems. Next game is tonight, when Minnesota comes to town. The Timberwolves are fourth in the league in blocked shots. Could be a long night.