The Charlotte Hornets overcame some early struggles to beat the Sacramento Kings 127-122, with Jeremy Lin taking over and shining in overtime, Kemba Walker doing most of the work in the fourth quarter and Steve Clifford finally showing an ability to think out of the box.
Walker scored 39 points in his best game of the season and maybe his best since joining the Hornets in the 2011 draft, scoring almost half of them in the fourth quarter, as the Hornets outscored the Kings by 17 points to force overtime, although it was a Rudy Gay tip in that actually sent the game into the extra five minutes. Lin scored “just” 14 points in 31 minutes, but the Hornets were better each time he touches the ball and was on the court, scoring nine of the team’s 14 points in overtime.
Playing in the right lineup through the fourth (altogether 31 minutes for Lin, with P.J. Hairston starting again) boosted Lin’s confidence. He started attacking the basket more and creating separation further away, leading him to shots he likes from mid range while throwing off defenders. He had the second best +/- on the team behind Frank Kaminsky, who might not be exploding offensively each time he’s on the floor, but presents enough of an issue for defenses that’s it’s often an excellent way to go for the Hornets.
Batum had a rough shooting game (5-of-16 from the field) but was two assists short of a triple double, scoring 18 points. Finding the right balance between offense and defense has been difficult for Clifford this season up to this point, but he seems to be slowly figuring out what’s the best way what works best at what stretch, and it’s important to see he recognizes Lin is indispensable for him on both ends of the floor, and especially when he needs quick points.
It was interesting to see Clifford get creative. He gave up on Al Jefferson as the Hornets made their big comeback in the fourth quarter, knowing he needs to open up the floor and run. He used a lineup that included Lin, Walker, Batum, Kaminsky and Zeller, which worked out brilliantly in both overtime and the comeback effort. It forced the Kings’ big men to step away from the paint and create openings for both Lin and Walker, with the Hornets scoring 62 in the paint in the end.
And that’s what this team has been needing from Clifford, and from some of his players. Thinking outside the box of letting Walker and Jefferson run the team. Slow, methodical, post up basketball works only for so long, and is easy to defend, especially for a team like the Kings. Clifford’s change wasn’t exactly small ball; it was simply a kind of lineup he didn’t have last season that gives him the ability to change things up, and maybe force his opponent into a situation he isn’t comfortable with.
Walker was excellent in the fourth with 19 points, including three 3-pointers, something we rarely see from him. He also finished with 5 assists in his 47-minute night. However, this is fool’s gold expecting him to be this good each night. He didn’t play any differently than in other nights, except being faster thanks to a lineup that enabled that. The Hornets will do well when they play the right basketball with the right lineups, which includes Lin and Batum next to each other and Lin dominant on the ball, with options for outside shooting; not by letting Walker go wild and hoping for the best.