CHARLOTTE, NC – Marvin Williams has a look of utter disbelief as he takes his seat in a stale, deathly silent Hornets locker room. He gazes into the floor for over a minute – disoriented by the events that just took place throughout the duration of Saturday night’s game – before raising his head to give the media the signal that he was ready to speak. 

“I’m still sitting here trying to process it myself,” Marvin said, silently reflecting for five seconds before proceeding. ”I’ve played in a lot of games… A lot of games… I’m still sitting here trying to process everything. That was a tough one. That was tough… It’s just disappointing. When you play enough games, you will experience disappointment.”

Throughout the course of a season, every team faces its share of peaks and valleys. Saturday night just happened to be the night for the Hornets to experience one of the more heartbreaking losses one can picture. 

There were no smiles, laughs, or friendly banter taking place in the locker room. Bismack Biyombo – one of the team’s more light-hearted, positive guys – was one of the several other Hornets players to shower and dress without saying a word. His facial expression did not shift from the look of pure desolation. 

LaVine responds following a tension-filled game Friday

The Hornets led 110-102 with 45.3 seconds remaining in the game. They trailed by as many as 14 but battled back in the 2nd half. The Bulls proceeded to go 4-4 from the field, including 3-3 from beyond the arc in the game’s next 41.8 seconds. Terry Rozier inbounded the ball with 7.1 seconds remaining. Devonte’ Graham caught the ball, was immediately triple-teamed, attempted to split the trap and escape, at which point he ended up losing the ball. Ryan Arcidiacono saved the ball from going out of bounds, handing it to Zach LaVine who dribbled the ball out to the right wing where he hit the game-winning dagger with 0.8 remaining to beat the Hornets in stunning fashion.

LaVine’s three three-pointers in the final 45 seconds contributed to his historic 49-point performance. He knocked down 13 threes on the night – a franchise record – scoring 27 points in the 4th quarter, willing his team back into the game.

LaVine’s 49-points came the day following a tension-filled game against the Miami Heat on Friday night. LaVine was pulled from the game early in the first quarter as Boylen was unhappy with his play and effort. Following Friday’s game, LaVine stated that he sensed a lack of trust from his head coach, Jim Boylen. The two had a one-on-one meeting Saturday – initiated by both sides. Boylen explained Saturday prior to his team’s game against the Hornets that there was no ill-will between the two. “We had a great talk.. Our goals are the same,” Boylen said. “I know Zach’s heart – I know what kind of person he is. I know that he cares about the team; I know he cares about playing good basketball… We can all get frustrated with a poor performance – me included – we can all get frustrated with that. Those things happen.”

It is safe to say that Zach LaVine responded well to the meeting with his head coach.

Perplexed by LaVine and the Bulls’ performance

1,080. That’s the number of games Marvin Williams has played in his career. Never in his career had he witnessed a performance like LaVine and the Bulls on Saturday night. Not in the 30,590 total minutes he has accumulated in his career, including the playoffs.

Marvin was perplexed and could not recall another time in his career that one player shot that well, dominating the game with superb shooting.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen this… They literally made everything they shot the last couple of minutes. I mean, we were playing good defense,”  Williams said. “Zach [LaVine] takes a step across half court and shoots it off the glass – good defense. Shooting fade-away threes, contested shots.

“The last time I feel I’ve seen that was in the playoffs with Dwyane Wade,” Williams explained in a baffled manner, shrugging his shoulders in pure astonishment. Marvin was asked if it felt like Game 6 during the first round of the 2016 playoffs against the Miami Heat. “The intensity was not that high, but that was the last time something like that has happened to us. What more can you do?”

Marvin expressed his tremendous respect for LaVine and the Bulls, giving them their due credit for the win. “Zach’s a hell of a player, take nothing away from him. Those guys are very well-coached, and they played extremely hard.” 

Devonte’ Graham was also asked if he had ever seen someone score at the level LaVine did Saturday night. His answer brought back some positive, bitter-sweet memories for Hornets’ fans. “No… Besides the game when Kemba had 60. But as far as hitting threes like that? Nah… not really. Never.”

Facing the loss

No matter how disappointing a loss is, you have to look it in the eyes and face it. You have to embrace your shortcomings and learn from them.

“We gave ourselves a great shot, a great opportunity there,” Borrego said moments after he stepped up to the podium postgame. “We just have not been able to close out these last few games.”

The Hornets struggled to close out games against the Nets and Wizards earlier in the week. They had leads in the 4th but crashed late in the game. They trailed the Raptors by just four points heading into the 3rd quarter before being outscored 72-40 in the 2nd half. Young teams struggle to close games. That’s just the nature of it.

It’s a learning experience with this young Hornets team. 1,365 of the Hornets’ 1,807 total points this season have come from players under the age of 25. Those nine players have an average of 1.44 years of experience. That is a positive statistic long-term but shines a light on the fact that this team will struggle to put together a full 48 minutes of basketball. The Hornets have failed to do that for much of the season. They have trailed by 10 or more points in 16 of their 17 games this season, blowing several 2nd half leads.

After the game, Borrego explained what his message to his team was following the loss. “Stick together. That’s why we’re in it together. That’s why we play a team sport. We’re in it for each other, pick each other up. It’s going to be tough to swallow, but keep fighting, keep moving forward. There was a lot of good out of tonight, so we just got to keep fighting and stay together.”

Devonte’ Graham was responsible for the turnover that resulted in Zach LaVine’s game-winning three-pointer. He had to face the loss as well as his play at the end. “That’s just a tough, tough loss,” Graham said. “I mean especially for me, turning the ball over right there in that situation. But Zach [LaVine] made an extreme shot, you just have to tip your hat to him for that.”

Positive takeaways

Despite a crushing loss, the Hornets put together a solid game, especially in the second half. Until the last seven seconds, it seemed as if the Hornets were going to pull out another thrilling win at home following a four-game road trip.

Saturday night was the Hornets’ sixth game in the previous eight days. They had a brutal schedule. “I thought our guys played inspired,” Borrego said. “We won the boards, we won the paint. We did a number of things very well in this game.” The Hornets outscored the Bulls 60-38 in the paint. They have struggled defending the paint this season. Despite the high volume of games and returning from a four-game road trip, they brought sufficient energy Saturday night – on the backend of a back-to-back.

“There was a lot of good in that game… There was a lot of good to get back in that game,” James Borrego said. The Hornets trailed from 10:09 in the first quarter until there was 1:59 remaining in the third. Charlotte held the Bulls to just 13 third quarter points – a place they’ve struggled this year – holding Chicago to 5-19 shooting.

The Hornets started the 2nd half on a 32-13 run, leading into the 4th quarter. Their 3rd quarter charge was courtesy of contributions from veterans Bismack Biyombo (+26 until he checked out early in the 4th), Marvin Williams (11 3rd quarter points), and Nic Batum who continued to make the right pass and defend well on the perimeter.

Terry Rozier had a very efficient game Saturday. He was a key part in keeping the Hornets in the game, scoring 13 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, contesting the Bulls’ late-game run with his own three’s. 11 of his 13 fourth quarter points were in the game’s final three minutes. On the night he shot 8-12 from the field. Despite the criticism he’s faced this season, he showed steady improvement in his shot selection and decision making in the pick-and-roll.

Devonte’ Graham’s 18 points and 10 assists came with his 11th consecutive game where he made multiple three-pointers (4-9 Saturday), along with his 5th double-double of the season.

The Hornets’ second half success was on the hinges of getting their guys mismatches on offense and exploiting them. For example, Marvin Williams was 5-5 on post-ups last night – all five makes coming when Coby White or Zach LaVine were defending him. Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier also got Bulls’ center Wendell Carter Jr. switched onto them where they made several three-pointers or drew fouls. Terry shot 9-12 from the line last night.

Marvin Williams’ night was overlooked by Zach LaVine’s outburst. He scored 21 points, a season-high, on 9-10 shooting, scoring 19 of his 21 in the second half. His veteran presence was crucial for this young team. He continued to make timely shot after timely shot to inspire second half runs. 

“We’ve got a long way to go, man. We’re getting better, we played better in that second half, we did some really good things in that third quarter defensively,” Williams said, referencing the Bulls 13 point 3rd quarter. “There are certainly some good things we can take away from this game.” 

Moving on

The NBA is a long, 82-game season. Teams will experience their fair share of highs and lows throughout the season. You learn from both. The losses hurt, but you have to bounce back and move on.

The Hornets face a hot 11-4 Miami Heat team Monday. They have to watch the film, learn, and focus on Monday’s game in South Beach which is far from a ‘gimme’ win, as Marvin Williams explained. “This one will hurt tonight, but tomorrow is a new day. Miami is extremely hot right now, so we’ll have to sit on this one tonight, but we’ll start focusing on Miami tomorrow.”

The Hornets will likely remember this game for its last 20 seconds, but that one moment, that one short duration of time won’t define this team or their season. They have already exhibited growth and have surpassed expectations. Charlotte is on pace to eclipse their preseason win total prediction of 24. 

Devonte’ Graham just about pieced together the night perfectly. He embraced the pain, knowing they will learn from it, and showed some optimism, shifting his attention to Monday’s game. 

“I feel like we got better. We keep being resilient, coming back. We were down 12, then up 12. It’s a game of runs, but we just got that fight in us. I feel like late we got better at making plays,” Devonte’ said postgame, hearing the first sliver of positivity in his voice postgame. “It’s definitely going to hurt, but like coach [Borrego] said, we got to learn from it and move on. We got another game on Monday against a real good team. We gotta get our mind right. It can hurt tonight, but by Monday we will definitely have a different mindset.”