Charlotte, NC – After trailing by as many as 19 and starting the 4th quarter in a 14-point hole, James Borrego needed to make an adjustment. The Hornets could not lose another game due to a tumultuous third quarter – which is responsible for their three losses this season. His response? Throwing out a lineup consisting of rookie Cody Martin, Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, and Bismack Biyombo. This lineup turned the tide in the game. Their energy and resiliency willed the Hornets back to pull out a 122-120 comeback victory over the Indiana Pacers in overtime.
Borrego found a group that made a great push, and he stuck with it. As a result, the five-man lineup of Graham, Rozier, Martin, Bridges, and Biyombo played the game’s final 17 minutes. The resiliency and perseverance to play 17 straight minutes down the stretch and continuing the same energy into overtime is something that can’t be glossed over. That group battled and triumphed.
A collective effort helped close the game
Every player in that five-man lineup had their own unique impact on the game. “That’s the beauty of our group,” Borrego said last night. “You never know who’s going to step up any night, and any man on that bench has to be active, live, and ready to go.”
- Devonte’ Graham scored 35 points on the night, including 18 in the 4th quarter/OT. Graham drew a foul on a three-point attempt with 1.7 seconds remaining in overtime with the game tied at 120. He knocked down two of the three shots at the charity stripe to seal the victory.
- Bismack Biyombo did not play the first three quarters, then came in and scored 15 points in the final 17 minutes of the game, adding 6 rebounds, 1 steal, and 2 blocked shots. He changed the energy of the game with his play on both ends.
- Cody Martin, despite scoring zero points in 33 minutes, led the team in plus/minus at 27 and was credited for the energy he contributed and his defensive prowess, guarding Malcolm Brogdon down the stretch.
- Terry Rozier scored nine of the Hornets’ 21 points to start the 4th on their 21-2 run, totaling 22 points on the night.
- Miles Bridges also had a quietly successful game, racking up 18 points on an impressive 8-10 from the field.
The Hornets’ 3rd quarter woes illustrated flashes of a similar narrative
Charlotte’s familiar narrative of 3rd quarter meltdowns looked like it may cost the team yet another game Tuesday night. The Pacers were leading 78-74 with five minutes remaining in the 3rd. Indiana suddenly caught fire caught fire on offense – directly leading to a stagnant Hornets half-court offense. The Pacers took over the game, going on a 12-2 run, leading 92-78 after the third period.
Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren were on fire last night, getting to their spots at will. Through the game’s first 36 minutes, Warren already totaled 27 points, missing just one shot, shooting 13-14 from the field. The Hornets could not protect the paint, and the NC State product was scoring with ease, making all five of his field goal attempts in the period.
As a team, the Pacers shot 13-22 in the third quarter, compared to Charlotte’s abysmal 6-19. The Hornets could not play their best brand of basketball. Borrego has stated in the past, you can’t play at a high pace and push the ball if you have to keep taking the ball out of the basket after made shots. The Hornets’ catalyst for their fast pace game is getting stops on the defensive end. They were not able to do that in the third, thus going down by 14.
The dreadful third quarters against the Timberwolves, Lakers, and Clippers this season displayed similar flaws. In each of these games, the Hornets trailed by less than a handful at the half before internally combusting. For example, against Minnesota, the Timberwolves began the quarter shooting 13-16 from the floor (16-22 for the quarter). They outscored Charlotte 45-25 in the 12-minute span, running away with the game en route to a 121-99 win.
I asked James Borrego after the Timberwolves loss last Friday how he will look to prevent another meltdown similar to that. Previously, the energy was lost in the quarter, the pace was slow, and the team was not getting stops. Borrego’s response? Bodies.
“It’s with bodies. You will look at different lineups that can contribute to pace, bringing more energy and juice off the bench. We tried that and tried different lineups there in the 3rd quarter and could not find a group to get things going on both ends. We were looking for more offense. That will help us.”
James Borrego did just that last night and rolled with the same five men to finish out the game. Going with a lineup of Bismack Biyombo, Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, and Cody Martin, Borrego knew this group would immediately bring energy. As a result, they changed the pace of the game, and from the moment the fourth quarter began, they started to chip away at the Pacers’ lead.
Biyombo’s energy kickstarts 4th quarter run
Borrego bringing Biyombo off the bench after not playing him the entire game is just another example of his “all hands on deck” mentality. Biyombo has historically brought energy in the past, and that is what the team needed. His impact was made in his first 30 seconds on the floor. The Hornets center grabbed an offensive rebound and seconds later had a tip-in off of a miss. His impact would not stop there.
Pacers forward JaKarr Sampson was impressed with Biyombo’s immediate output. “He definitely came in with some energy. Biyombo played well off the bench for them, and he definitely brought a different energy to the game, but whoever is out there, we need to match it.”
Biyombo was displaying his energy in a multitude of ways on both ends of the floor. He was continuing to bring his effort by poking the ball loose near halfcourt and going on a solo fast break where he threw down a left-handed poster on his defender. The crowd was loving his energy, as were his teammates and Coach Borrego. “I thought Biz turned the game when we brought him in to start the fourth,” the Hornets’ head coach explained. “Just with his energy, his defense, he blocked the big shot, got to the rim, finished, got to the free throw line, and he was all over the place.”
Biyombo’s energy started the comeback, but it was Terry Rozier who was the scoring catalyst to spark the Hornets’ 21-2 run. He started with a coast-to-coast and-one layup over and through the taller Justin Holiday. The possession right before that, Terry had a jumper on the left baseline that should also have been a foul as he was completely knocked over. Rozier scored nine of the 21 points during the run, including seven points from Biyombo.
Sticking together down the stretch
The Hornets erased their 14-point deficit and were up 102-96 as the fourth quarter was winding down. They stuck together and grinded out every possession.
Terry spoke about the team changing the game to start the fourth, giving several of his teammates credit, including ones who were not even in the game. “Biz came in and changed the game with his high effort and intensity, and we just fed off that. Cody was another big piece for us tonight. And ‘Te just knocking down a lot of shots. And we just stuck together. We were down 19 and having vets like Marv and MKG, they just made sure we stayed together.”
Bismack Biyombo knew the Hornets could pull out a win if they played within the mantra of the team. “I thought there’s nothing impossible as long as we play the right way with the right energy, and that group, we just put it together… we brought it and got it done.”
Rookie Cody Martin became another unlikely contributor
Cody Martin’s play on the floor also brought the team together. Devonte’ Graham loved the performance from Cody tonight, especially being a rookie. “I love it for him. When your name is called, you just have to be ready… it’s impressive to be able to come off the bench not having played more than four minutes the last two or three games and come in and play thirty is impressive, and have that big impact even though he didn’t score to still have that huge impact on the game.”
Energy is Martin’s bread and butter and why the team drafted him. Borrego credited Biyombo and Cody Martin for turning the game around for the Hornets. As previously mentioned, Martin led the team in +/- at +27 despite scoring 0 points in 33 minutes. He grabbed 11 OREB’s, drew charges, and defended Malcolm Brogdon down the stretch.
“Playing like that, you just work your way onto the court,” Rozier said about Martin stepping into his role postgame. “The energy he plays with, the fight, his dog… We’ve seen that since the summer, and he’s just working his way into the rotation and that’s what it’s all about.”
Devonte’ Graham’s poised play
Every one of those five guys had a role. Devonte’ Graham was the team’s primary ball-handler in the half-court – where Charlotte has struggled. The maturity and confidence Graham displayed to keep his team together as the game was close was another large part of their victory. Borrego expressed much praise for the second year guard’s poise down the stretch. “To continue to play this way, to be poised and unphased, he has grown before our eyes. I trust him, believe in him, and I think that’s apparent. I think our guys do also. He’s a special player. He’s a winner.”
Devonte’ controlled the pace down to the end of the game. He scored 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, along with eight points in the final five minutes. He finished off the game sinking the two game-winning free throws.
The Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham fit seems odd to some, but Rozier is fine with it and it worked out. “I can play off the ball. That’s something I’m used to. Did it in high school, I did it in college, and that’s something I can get used to – I can adjust to that,” Rozier stated postgame. “It’s just another ball handler out there, a guy that plays hard. I love playing with ‘Te.” The two looked to be feeding off of each other Wednesday, combining for 57 points on the night as the team’s two leading scorers.
The Hornets’ aggressiveness led them to a tough win in OT
After the game Borrego talked about the resiliency of the group. Being down 14 to start the fourth is not a simple task to undertake, but Borrego knew he found a group to do just that. “We found a group that made a great push there, but we were never out of the game. We kept pushing and the resiliency is shining through with this group.”
Pacers head coach Nate McMillan contributed the Hornets’ group to being aggressors down the stretch, leading them back to eventually winning the game. “Well they were the aggressors; they were marching to the free throw line. They shot 42 free throws tonight, and we only shot 7 free throws.”
Borrego spoke on the team being aggressive, attacking the rim to get to the free throw line. “I thought it showed our aggressiveness to the rim tonight. We were trying to get there. You have to give them credit; they are a very good defense… At halftime we said, keep attacking the rim. Don’t turn down an attack at the rim to settle for a mid-range, keep getting to the rim, and our guys stuck with that.”
In overtime, the Hornets attempted eight free throws, including the two game winners from Devonte’ Graham. Almost as equally important, Biyombo drew two fouls in the last minute of regulation to get the Hornets opportunities at the charity stripe or another chance with the ball. Furthermore, late in overtime, Bismack drew several fouls to get both Pacers’ centers, Goga Bitadze and T.J. Leaf, fouled out of the game.
Devonte’ Graham was discussing this team’s fight to grind out the 122-120 overtime win postgame. “We just kept saying it’s a long game. Being down 17, almost 20 early, and we knew we just had to keep fighting and get stops… Biz kept saying ‘6 minutes left leave it all out on the court. 3 minutes left leave it all out on the court.’ So that last five that was in there, we just fought so hard that we just wanted to get that W.”