Mark Williams scored a career high 27 points and LaMelo Ball made a game winning defensive stand as the Charlotte Hornets stole a crazy win over the Indiana Pacers, 125-124.
The Hornets avoided the slow starts that had plagued them in recent games. They had a few moments where they were beaten up the floor, but when they forced the Pacers to play in the half court, they forced long possessions and difficult shots. The game was even after one quarter of play, and it stayed that way well into what we’ll call a defense-oriented second quarter. Both teams struggled to control the ball. The Hornets got the ball stolen, while the Pacers got shots blocked. Both teams were pleading for foul calls that never came.
The Hornets found an exploit to the Pacers defense. They fed Gordon Hayward on the block, who feasted on the Pacers weaker wing defenders. It got the Pacers defense out of sorts, and the Hornets started finding easier openings. They built up their first double digit lead and played the best defense they’ve played all season. At the break, they led by eight.
The Pacers went nuclear to start the second half by making seven straight shots, all threes. Tyrese Haliburton, who got hit in the face by Mark Williams late in the first half, took it personally and was the biggest catalyst for that. They ended up with 12 3-pointers and 50 (!!!) points in the third quarter alone, but the Hornets did enough to keep the game close. They trailed by four heading into the fourth quarter, which started with Andrew Nembhard, who had made 1-of-16 threes on the season, hit a 30 foot bomb to start the quarter.
The Hornets and Pacers traded baskets for much of the fourth, with threes from JT Thor and Gordon putting the Hornets up five at the midway point. Unfortunately, Terry Rozier went down on the same possession that Hayward hit his three holding his groin in a great deal of pain.
The game was a firework show down the stretch. The Pacers kept hitting threes, and the Hornets kept matching. The Hornets went up by three with a minute to play on this phenomenal alley oop from LaMelo Ball to Mark Williams.
The Hornets forced a turnover on the next Pacers next possession, but they turned it back over trying to score in transition. PJ Washington lost the ball out of bounds with a Pacers defender draped on his back. The Pacers scored on a Buddy Hield and-1 that the Hornets unsuccessfully challenged, but he missed the free throw. The ball was knocked out of bounds off Williams’ shoulder, but the Pacers quickly turned it over on a play that looked like some U6 basketball stuff. The Hornets inbounded the ball and in nod to the previous possession, Washington was stripped trying to attack the basket and the ball went back to the Pacers.
The Pacers put the ball in Haliburton’s hands to win it, but LaMelo Ball shut him down in isolation and poked the ball away to run the clock out.
Mark Williams scored a career high 27 points to go with seven rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. The Hornets struggled to capitalize on Williams’ strengths against other teams’ small ball lineups in recent games, but they made it work tonight. The Pacers couldn’t stop him around the basket, and he made all nine of his free throws when he was sent to the line. This is the Mark Williams we want to see more of.
Brandon Miller finished with 12 points, but his presence was much louder than the box score. He was all over the floor on defense, and he might be the team’s best perimeter defender right now. He finished the night with a +17 in a game the Hornets won by one. He might be soon for the starting lineup pending the status of Terry Rozier.
Gordon Hayward turned the clock back on the night we all turn our clocks back. The Hornets fed him, especially in the second quarter, and he ate. The Hornets don’t win this game without him.
LaMelo Ball was getting a lot of heat for how badly he got outplayed by Tyrese Haliburton for much of the night, but he got the last laugh. He found ways to impact winning down the stretch. He got into a crowd of three Pacers to tip an offensive rebound over to Mark Williams late, and then his defense of all things won the Hornets the game on the last possession. He finished with 11 assists as well. If he can get the shot to start falling, Hornets fans will be back in his corner soon enough.
Terry Rozier may be out for a bit. He went down holding his groin area, and he was struggling to walk as he headed to the locker room. We’ll wait for updates, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’ll miss a few games at the very least. Groin injuries can be tricky.
PJ Washington had a mental lapse trying to score early in the shot clock when the Hornets were up three with 37 seconds left. He got stripped, and the Pacers got the ball back with enough time to go two-for-one. He got the rare opportunity to immediately learn from his mistake, but he got stripped a second time in a row trying to score with the Hornets up one and the shot clock turned off. He had a good game up that point, but those gaffs were bad. Even Gordon Hayward in the postgame made mention of the Hornets trying to give away the win with their decisions at the end.
No time to celebrate. The Hornets are en route to Dallas to take on an offensive juggernaut in the Mavericks.