Hornets at Wizards 2/23/18

The process of sowing seeds takes time and patience when coaching a young team. Hornets’ head coach James Borrego is starting to sow seeds into this Hornets team’s DNA. He has begun to establish a winning culture built around his four pillars. However, building a winning culture does not start with immediate success. 

Progression is not linear. In fact, most times you often have to take two steps back before you can take one step forward. 

Struggles are imperative for growth, and this young Charlotte Hornets team is facing those realities right now through. They have gone on a three-game winning streak to go along with a three and four-game losing streak. That’s life as a young team. Inconsistencies will be present on the path to growth. 

The Hornets’ average years of experience is just 3.93 years. They are one of the league’s youngest teams and were projected to have the league’s worst win total at 24 games, according to Caesar’s. Through 11 games the team has surpassed expectations, currently sitting with a 4-7 record. 

Wednesday night’s rollercoaster of a game against the Memphis Grizzlies was chocked-full of peaks and valleys. Leading by double-digits, immediately followed by a 20-point turnaround, battling back to tie the game, before falling short in the end. 

Often times growth occurs via shortcomings and failures. The Hornets have faced their fair share of strifes thus far, but they are making the proper adjustments along the way. Through trial and error, this Hornets team is learning.

Putting together 48 minutes of basketball

Terry Rozier was a big part of the Hornets establishing their leads throughout the game. Wednesday night he tied a career-high with 33 points, adding 6 assists and 5 rebounds. He shot 7-11 from beyond the arc. Despite the career night he still held himself liable for mishaps that led to the Grizzlies comeback. “Every play counts and it starts with me with the turnovers,” Rozier said as he accumulated 5 turnovers on the night.

Rozier further explained how the team needs to put together 48 minutes of winning basketball. Little things impact the game in the grand scheme of things – his turnovers, for example. “We just have to be more disciplined for 48 minutes and know the little things in the first, second, and third quarter are hurting us towards the end. Every play counts,” Rozier said. 

As Terry knows, basketball is a game of runs. Young teams are inconsistent. They lose grip of the game intermittently, going through dry spells on offense whilst losing focus on the defensive end. If you have followed the Hornets this year, you can attest to this. This is all a part of the growth process.

The Hornets’ problem is putting together a full 48 minutes of basketball. They have been in every game this season as Terry Rozier explained Wednesday. “No team this whole season has just punished us from the beginning, just dominating us the whole game. We’ve been in every game.” 

That was the case Wednesday as the team had a stellar performance for the majority of the game. There was a combined 4:47 of game-time that consisted of two Grizzlies’ runs. A 10-0 run to end the third and an 11-0 run to begin the fourth. So out of the game’s 48 minutes, the Hornets dominated 43 minutes and 16 seconds of the game. 

Just a span of fewer than five minutes cost a team the game – that’s all part of the learning curve. The Hornets have seen bright and clear how you can dominate the majority of the game but lose your lead in just a few short minutes. Along the way, you learn how to maintain leads and close out games. First, you have to experience blown leads and crushing losses to learn and grow from it.  

Poise, execution, and defending: the key to closure

Closing out games is one particular area where a young team often struggles, as we have seen with the Hornets of late. They have lost two of their last three games by a combined six points after leading heading into the fourth quarter. 

Wednesday night, after having a 12-point lead, the Hornets collapsed in the 4th quarter. The Memphis Grizzlies started the final period on an 11-0 run, eventually building their own double-digit lead late in the fourth. They led 115-105 with two minutes remaining. 

“In those moments when you’re up 12, you have to find a way to close out,” Borrego said after the loss. Adding that in order to maintain a lead, you do so with “poise, execution, and defending. We didn’t do those three things well in that stretch. 

“When we had that 12-point lead, we relaxed as a team and as a unit and allowed them to get back in the game…. They started making some shots, we hung our head on the offensive end, and it spiraled from there.”

Despite blowing the lead, the Hornets deserve credit – they battled back

You have to give the Hornets credit. They collected themselves. With grit and perseverance, they battled back, putting together a late-game run to get back in the game.

Borrego explained how his team executed the comeback, playing with poise and defending at a high level, as opposed to the first 10 minutes of the quarter. “We did those things towards the end when we felt the urgency to get back in the game… Our guys at least got it together down the stretch. They started to compete, get stops, got out and made some shots.”

Most young teams roll over and embrace the loss after a 20-point swing, especially when trailing by double-digits with two minutes left in a game. Not this Hornets team – they seem to be built differently. It starts with the culture and attitude Borrego has cemented into this team. Borrego preaches competitiveness and has instilled confidence in his young squad to fight no matter the circumstances. 

With 2:25 left the Hornets went on a 12-2 run, tying the game up at 117.

Borrego said Malik Monk “was aggressive” and “felt the responsibility to score” en route to his 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assist performance Wednesday. He helped establish the team’s initial lead and helped pioneer the comeback. Monk has made the necessary strides this season and was in the game down the stretch, willing his team back into the game – something that would not have been a reality during his first two seasons. With poise and wise decision making, Malik put together an efficient game.  

During a short 1:40 stretch of game time, the Hornets scored 12 points, led by Miles Bridges and Malik Monk, both making two timely baskets. Devonte’ Graham tied the game with a jab-step clutch three-pointer over the taller Jaren Jackson Jr. The Grizzlies got the rock for the final possession, putting it in the hands of rookie sensation Ja Morant. He sunk the game-winning layup over three Hornets defenders at the rim with 0.7 seconds left. The Grizzlies won 119-117. 

Despite the devastating loss for the Hornets, playing through the peaks and valleys of the final quarter, this team learned valuable lessons from the game that they can learn and grow from. Battling back from down 10 with less than two minutes left to eventually tie the game up is quite promising. Further down the road, when the Hornets encounter another game where they’re trailing by double-digits, they have seen first-hand that they can engineer a comeback in a matter of minutes.