The holiday season is the time of year where we spend time with the ones we love. Typically, we stuff our faces with delicious food for a few weeks. NBA players typically get some time off around Christmas and take advantage of the well deserved break. The problem is adjusting shortly after a long break, where they typically did not take care of their bodies as well as they should have, is problematic.
The Hornets had a five-day break and got to stay at home for almost a week until they took on the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night. James Borrego explained pre-game that the away teams around the holidays usually have the upper hand as they are away from home where they can focus solely on basketball. He was worried his team would come out flat, a prediction that would surely come true in the following hours.
When asked pre-game if he was worried about his team having four days off Borrego replied, “Yes. Yes. Yes. Look at the games last night (the 26th) and Christmas day. Who’s been the most aggressive team for the most part? The road team. Right? They’re not worried about their family at home, and the presents and all this. They just come in to play. Our guys just have to come in with that mentality.”
Borrego explained his concern about his team being home for the holidays, having to play a game around all of the madness of Christmas. Obviously, JB loves the holidays. He said he enjoyed the time he spent with his family and even asked me what he got for Christmas. He was not being a scrooge per se, but was just explaining how this time of the year can impact his team.
“We cannot just sit here and wait for the Thunder to give us this game,” Borrego continued. “We got to go get this game. I’m extremely worried about that and my guys understand that. We got to come out as the hungry team. We’ve been sitting on our tails too long here. We have to come out with an aggressive mentality to start this game.”
Last night the Hornets came out flat and put Borrego’s concerns into fruition.
Coming out flat – struggling through 2.5 quarters
The Hornets came out as flat as you could imagine last night. They started the first quarter shooting 9-25 from the field (36 percent). By halftime, they were an abysmal 1-19 from three-point land. The Thunder were not defending the Hornets from three particularly well. It was just an off night for the team from downtown; a reality for a team that shoots a high volume of three-pointers on a nightly basis.
The time off also contributed to the lack of rhythm the Hornets felt. The Thunder got to shake the rust off Thursday night where they lost to the Memphis Grizzlies. Friday night the Hornets saw a more polished Thunder team than Memphis experienced the night prior. They did not show too many signs of rust. The Hornets went into the halftime break trailing 53-43.
“A three-day break. Getting back into the gym, getting back to game speed,” Terry Rozier said, explaining what led to the Hornets’ slow start. “Obviously sometimes shots aren’t going to fall, but it’s a part of the game. You just try to still take care of the defensive end.”
P.J. Washington returned back from a five-game absence due to a fractured right pinky finger. He added that the defense was also torpid, not attributing the slow start to shooting alone. “I think we came out really sluggish. Missing shots, missing assignments on defense, just ball watching. We could have done a better job of that coming in, so we just have to get better from the start of games, maintaining that for the whole game.”
Tides started to turn midway through the 3rd quarter
Terry Rozier began to light it up midway through the third quarter, willing his team back into the game. His back court mate Devonte’ Graham had just two points on 1-9 shooting through three-quarters. Rozier took initiative, scoring 12 in the third to bring his team back into the game. He finished the night scoring 26 points on 10-18 shooting. They trailed by seven (down just three from their 10-point deficit at the half) entering the fourth. It wasn’t the score that changed in that third quarter but it was the aggressiveness and the style at which the team played with.
Cody Martin and Malik Monk helped change the pace of the game as well in the third, getting stops, and running in transition to give this team life. James Borrego attributed the change of pace to their comeback. “More aggressiveness, more pace offensively,” Borrego explained. The pace offensively is a direct by-product of being aggressive on defense and getting stops to help this team run.
“I thought we were stuck in the mud, looked like we had been sitting on our tails for three or four days in the first half. Second half we played with more pace, more urgency. I think a lot of that was Terry [Rozier] – he drove a lot of that. Just more aggressiveness in the second half.”
Despite a comeback, late-game mistakes cost the Hornets
After big shots down the stretch of the 4th quarter at the hands of Devonte’ Graham (game-tying layup with 1.8 seconds left), Miles Bridges, and P.J. Washington in crunch time, the Hornets found themselves heading into overtime tied at 94.
DEVONTE' GRAHAM GETS TO THE BUCKET TO FORCE OT!🤯 pic.twitter.com/hH73q2pxUH— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) December 28, 2019
Despite battling back, the Hornets’ lack of stops on the defensive end cost them this game in overtime. Chris Paul and Steven Adams both took advantage of lapses on defense, including Adams getting offensive rebounds to get the Thunder second-chance points en route to a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds.
The physicality down low stood out to Terry Rozier postgame when discussing what went wrong for the Hornets late in the game. “Just physicality down low. Trying to keep Steven Adams off the boards. I think they got too many second-chance opportunities, for that matter. We’ve got to help the bigs, us guards, make it easier on them.”
Not just defensive lapses but turnovers also cost the Hornets a shot at winning the game in the 4th. The team took care of the ball in overtime but failed to do so in the 4th when they had opportunities to close the game out. James Borrego knew his team had a shot at winning the game, they were resilient and overcame a rough start but just fell short in the end. They did battle back but the team still showed signs of rust, having a break for the Holidays.
“I think our guys battled. It came down to too many costly turnovers, lack of execution. We put ourselves in position to win this game. It’s frustrating because I thought we had control there for a minute. A few breakdowns defensively and a few turnovers and it cost us.”
The Hornets can shake off this game and focus on the next task at hand which is the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday. Last time these two teams faced off, Ja Morant hit a buzz-beating game-winner against Charlotte. Look for this team to be more collected and look to even up the season series against the Grizzlies.