James Borrego was all smiles after his team pulled out a tight 102-101 victory over the Detroit Pistons on the eve of Thanksgiving. Borrego even gave me his favorite Thanksgiving side dishes postgame. Well, he couldn’t name just one side. I mean, I couldn’t either. There’s too many. 

“I’ll give you my top three. Mashed potatoes – plain but I add a little red chili on it – sweet potato casserole, and a good ole’ roll to dip my green chili in or my gravy,” Borrego said, anticipating Thursday’s feast. “That’s a good day right there… My wife’s a great cook by the way. I can’t wait to eat her Thanksgiving meal. Make sure you put that in there.” 

Dwayne Bacon and Devonte’ Graham both shared the same list of their favorite side dishes, listing off their top three without any hesitation: mac-n-cheese, yams, and cornbread. Not a bad list.

As for the actual basketball game last night, the Hornets closed out a competitive game that went right down to the wire – a consistent trend for the team this season. To their credit, this young team pulled it out, ending a five-game losing skid. 

Spirits were high in the locker room postgame. You could barely hear Devonte’ Graham speak over the team’s banter at the beginning of his media availability. A considerable change of pace compared to the atmosphere in the locker room after Saturday’s heartbreaking loss

The Hornets got contributions from several players Wednesday. A collective team effort. P.J. Washington bounced-back with 17 points on 7-11 shooting after averaging 5.6 points per game over the last five games (36.6 percent shooting). Miles Bridges contributed 15, Nicolas Batum added an efficient 13 to go along with a stellar defensive performance. Two performances that stuck out the most included Devonte’ Graham’s 16 PTS, 15 AST, and 7 REB and Bismack Biyombo’s 19 PTS, 9 REB, and 2 BLK. Biyombo started in place of the injured Cody Zeller. 

The team got to kick-start their Thanksgiving holiday on a good note, sticking together for 48 minutes to beat Detroit for the 8th straight game. 

Not letting a five-game losing streak affect morale

The Hornets came into Wednesday’s game riding a five-game losing streak. A majority of those losses were at the hands of several late-game meltdowns. They lost several leads down the stretch in the fourth quarter and a heartbreaking buzzer-beater did not help the matter. 

Young teams are fragile. The overall demeanor in the locker room can be altered after a losing streak – especially in the fashion that the Hornets experienced it in. Despite a season filled with three, four, and five game losing streaks, this team hung together, united as one, and won a competitive game against the Pistons. 

James Borrego is the leader of his team. The guiding voice, leading the Hornets through the battles and eps and flows of an NBA season. Coaching a young team is rather difficult. These guys haven’t delt with much losing in their young careers, having dominated at every level prior to the NBA. It is his job to keep the team together with the right mindset for an 82-game season. He spoke last night on how his team has dealt with the recent losing skid. 

“We learn and we grow from it. It’s never to deal after a loss but as long as you’re growing and learning, this is part of the process for us. This is how you go through the fire,” James Borrego told The Painted Lines prior to his team’s win Wednesday. “No one said this was going to be easy. Losses are part of development and growth… As long as our mentality is to learn and grow and develop after every game, we’re going to be okay.

“Nobody’s feeling sorry for us, we aren’t hanging our heads, we’re positive. The spirits are great in that room and guys are pulling for each other. We just have to grow and learn how to close these games out in an efficient way.” 

His team did not seem to be phased by the trends of the last few weeks of blowing games in the second half. They stuck it out and battled as a cohesive unit.  

With 12.8 seconds left, Detroit had the ball, down 102-101. James Borrego tasked Nic Batum, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges, Marvin Williams, and Bismack Biyombo as the closing unit to make the game’s final stop.

On Detroit’s first inbound, Biyombo broke up the incoming pass as it sailed out of bounds. Directly following, Derrick Rose flew by Batum on the next rebound getting the ball, with a foul to give, Batum fouled Rose. The Pistons’ last chance. Rose brings the ball in – Batum guarding – and they switch Biyombo onto Rose. Derrick Rose drives left, Biyombo follows, defending the quicker guard tight as Bridges comes over to traps Rose. Rose kicks the ball left to Kennard who could not get the shot off before the buzzer. Hornets win. 

Bismack Biyombo confirmed exactly what Borrego said about his team’s mentality through the peaks and valleys to start the season. “It never changed. You never want to get too high and you never want to get too low. Your learn lessons through the ups and the downs you learn as well,” Boyombo said postgame. 

“As a team, you’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some. You want to find a balance that’s going to help you long-term. This is an 82-game season, so you can’t have ups when you’re winning and downs when you’re losing. You have got to try and stay consistent. This is a great league and we get a lot of quick-turnarounds. You got to stay focused, you got to stay patient, and you got to keep working.”

Devonte’ Graham… is it even shocking anymore?

Devonte’ Graham continues to display his talent in remarkable ways. He has not stopped putting together exotic performance after exotic performance. Graham’s displaying why he is the team’s best and most integral player. Last night he stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, 15 assists, and 7 rebounds. 

He did not have his best shooting night from the field, going just 6-15. He recorded his 16th game this season (of the 19 played) where he knocked down multiple three-pointers in one game. Graham currently is third in the NBA in three-pointers made (63).

Since the 2006-07 season only two Hornets have recorded a game with 15 points and 15 assists: Kemba Walker – coincidentally against Detroit in February of 2014 – and Devonte’ Graham Wednesday night. Graham’s 15 assists came with just one turnover.

As a team, the Hornets had only 4 TO’s on the night, a season-low. “That was my favorite stat of the night,” Borrego beamed postgame. Turnovers have plagued the Hornets this season, pitting them in deep holes they cannot battle back from. 

Devonte’ Graham is the Hornets’ centerpiece on offense. The numbers back that claim. When Devonte’s on the floor, the Hornets score 111.6 PTS/100 possessions and have an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 54.5. When he is off the floor, the team’s points differential drops by 17 (1st percentile in the NBA). They score just 96.1 PTS/100 possessions (3rd percentile) and their eFG% drops to 49.2 (13th percentile) per Cleaning The Glass. He’s also 4th in the NBA in total assists (143). 

Devonte’ Graham is the quarterback of this team. He played 10 of the 12 minutes in the 3rd quarter where the Hornets completed an 11-point turnaround. His composure and maturity for a second-year guard are remarkable. Graham plays like a 10-year vet. Running the offense, the Kansas product has exceptional vision out of the pick-and-roll, squeezing the ball through tight windows in between multiple defenders. His ability as a distributor in transition and on the break is impeccable. 

Graham’s thrown dozens of alley-oop lobs this season, two, in particular, were momentum swings for the Hornets in the 4th quarter. One to rookie P.J. Washington and one to Malik Monk. Give credit to Batum for blocking Derrick Rose’s layup, allowing the break to occur where Monk threw down another vicious alley-oop. Those three plays equally electrified the crowd at the Spectrum Center (see below). 

The fruits of Devonte’s labors are shining bright

Bismack Biyombo is loving Devonte’s play this season. He expressed his praise for his point guard following the team’s win. Graham played just 46 games, averaging 14.7 minutes per contest during his rookie season. Biz took note of the work Graham put in in the shadows last season. Devonte’s performance does not surprise Biz and it is paying dividends to Graham himself as well as his team.

“Devonte’ has been phenomenal. You can tell, the way he worked last year. Even when he wasn’t playing, every time I would come back to the gym I would see him working. There’s no secrets or shortcuts to this.” Biyombo said.  

“He has put so many hours in the gym that the only way things could happen for him is him playing the way he is playing now. Obviously, that helps our team because it takes stress off other guys. Now he is just able to help everybody… He’s been playing unbelievable. It’s been great for us.”

Bismack mentioned Devonte’s game taking stress off his teammates. His success has opened up the Hornets offense entirely. Coming into a season with the unknown of who would replace Kemba’s productivity, it has now become well-known that Graham is the guy. His ability to create shots for others – teammates in new roles where they have had to adjust and struggle to score at times – has been one of the most significant keys for the Hornets this season. P.J. Washington hit a bump in the road during the team’s five-game losing streak. Miles Bridges has had to adjust to moving to the 3 where scoring and his role are different. Devonte’ create points for both forwards last night en route to Washington’s 17 and Miles’ 15 points. 

Devonte’ makes everyone around him better. His performance Wednesday night does not come to the surprise of many anymore. Graham has played at such an incredibly high level and been so effective that this is the new norm for Graham.