LaMelo Ball registered his 10th-career triple-double with 30 points (including 23 in the fourth), 10 rebounds and 13 assists, but it wasn’t enough as the Charlotte Hornets took a hard-fought 124-118 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
Brandon Miller made his not-so-long-awaited first NBA start and Kyrie Irving promptly baited him into committing a shooting foul within the first minute, but he did nail a middy in response. The Mavs hit a few threes early to build a small lead as the Hornets fed Mark Williams in an effort to take advantage of the thinner rookie, Dereck Lively II. Hayward put up 7 points and 3 assists in the early-going and Theo Maledon and Nick Richards combined for 11 points to spark the second unit, powering the Hornets to a 31-26 lead after — the first time Charlotte had led at the end of the first quarter all season.
PJ Washington finished off a Euro-step to put the Hornets up double-digits, 40-30 early in the second. Ish Smith and Bryce McGowens made their respective season debuts in the first half to eat up minutes with Terry Rozier sidelined. Hayward and Washington killed Dallas inside in the first half, combining for 22 points and 11-17 shooting from inside the arc. Charlotte held serve in the middle of the second, limiting Dallas’ offense outside of Kyrie/Luka Doncic-generated looks. A 12-4 run capped off by Point Nick Richards helped the Hornets take a 62-50 lead into the locker room.
Washington scored a quick seven to get himself up to 20 points at the opening of the third. The game slowed down in the third, and eventually Dallas was able to put its first real run together. A highly questionable goaltending call that cost Steve Clifford his coach’s challenge got the Mavs within six, and a Powell finish cut Charlotte’s lead to one a few minutes later, 80-81. Dallas went on a 14-5 run to turn it into a whole new ballgame late in the third. Hardy converted an and-one to make it a one-point game again as the quarter closed and the Hornets took an 84-83 lead into the final frame.
To open the fourth, Ball finally made his first triple of the night to break an 86-86 tie and continued to heat up as he hit another on the next trip. The Mavs fired back with a huge run, taking a 94-92 lead on a three from Tim Hardaway Jr., their first since it was 15-14 in the first quarter. Dallas’ run ballooned to 11-0 before Ball stopped the bleeding. What would’ve been an and-one turned into a 4-point play that tied the game at 96 thanks to a Doncic technical foul, but he quickly nailed a turnaround jumper to put Dallas back on top.
A pair of Hayward missed free throws followed by a Lively lob finish turned into a big four-point swing for a moment before Ball buried his third and fourth threes of the night to tie it right back up. Hayward laid one in minutes later to bring the Hornets within one, but again Dallas responded with a quick run to rebuild a small lead, this time 108-102. Ball reached 30 points and 10 rebounds late to give himself a 30-point triple-double in the closing minutes, and he and Hayward each had a tough finish at the rim to get Charlotte within three.
Down three, the Hornets defense was able to force a shot clock violation and give themselves 8.4 seconds to tie the game. With Miller inbounding, the Hornets couldn’t spring a man open, and with no timeouts, were forced to take a five-second violation and play the fouling game. As a result, the Mavs snuck away with the win.
The Hornets offense is starting to look really good with consistency; Steve Clifford is calling a lot of successful halfcourt sets, creating easy looks for the bigs, getting Hayward in the mid-range, Washington downhill, etc. Charlotte is a great ball-screen/DHO team with Williams, Richards, Washington as the bigs and Ball, Hayward, Miller, Rozier, Maledon, and eventually Smith as ball-handlers.
Ball is still not shooting well, but his passing was on full display tonight as he recorded a career-high 11 assists in first half even though he shot 1-6 FG in the opening two quarters. He’s one of the best playmakers in the NBA and that will only become more evident once he finds his shot and opens up the rest of his offense. He might’ve taken a big step towards that with his shooting in the fourth quarter tonight. It’s ridiculous that he turned what looked to be an off-night into a 30-point triple-double over the course of 12 minutes.
Hayward has comfortably been the best player on team thus far. The veteran is getting to his spots with ease and patience, shooting efficiently (though not so much tonight), creating shots for teammates and playing with an overall air of confidence. The Hornets needed him to step up with Ball’s scoring struggles and he’s done that and more.
That first half might’ve been the best 24-minute stretch of Hornets basketball yet this season. Leading by a dozen at the break behind 15 points from Hayward, 13 from Washington and 10 each from the centers. The second unit played great to supplement lack of scoring from Ball and Miller in the first half.
The rebounding was poor outside of the centers and Melo, as it has been all season — Washington, Hayward and Thor could’ve utilized their size/strength against the Mavs’ wings more often. Even then, Hornets only lost the rebounding battle 47-43 and noticeably outmatched Dallas’ bigs in the early-going.
Not a great night for Miller in his first-career start. Only 7 points on 3-15 shooting, going 0-5 from distance and looking out of sorts offensively most of the night. He made a couple of timely jumpers, but also missed a few to counteract them. It’s a positive sign that Clifford trusted him to play 36 minutes through the shooting struggles and he still defended well.
FREE THROWS! After going 23-23 at the line last night, Charlotte went 12-21 tonight in a six-point loss. That tells a lot of the story tonight — Hayward and Williams each left points at the line in the fourth quarter of a close game.
Though the Hornets led by as much as 15 points, which renders this as “bad” by default, they didn’t necessarily “let” the Mavs back into the game. Dallas went on a big run in the third, but it was the only sizable run of the game for them and the Hornets were able to hang around for the remainder. There are plenty of positives to derive from this early-season loss despite the fact Grant Williams shot 3-3 from three in the fourth.
The Hornets are off the next two days before beginning a two-game home series against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, Nov. 8. The Wizards could be the worst team in the NBA right now and serve as a pair of get-right games for Charlotte. Letting this loss simmer over the course of a couple rest days should provide some juice for the next time out.