The Charlotte Hornets beat the Utah Jazz 124-119 behind a career high and a franchise record 52 points from Kemba Walker, who decided or was told to go and try to win the game by himself, although deferring to other players, like Jeremy Lin and others could have made the ending less suspenseful.
The Hornets won in double overtime to maybe set themselves on a new path of winning and getting closer to the playoff spots they’ve drifted away from recently. Walker himself said after the game that he nearly cost his team the game, like when he ignored a wide open Lin before the end of the first overtime, keeping his head on the ball and the floor instead of actually seeing the court, or some of his bad shots that helped the Jazz keep clawing back, not to mention his non existent defense for the entire game.
Criticizing Walker when he just had this kind of scoring night sounds weird, but he did shoot the ball 34 times and got a green light to ignore everyone. Yes, it worked this time, but it’s gotten the Hornets into so much trouble more often than not. With the Jazz defense at some point completely focused on Walker, it would have been much easier moving the ball quickly, swinging it from side to side and find open players. Lin found Marvin Williams (19 points) for a big three at the beginning of overtime, and was the one who fed a beautiful pass to Zeller that didn’t end with a basket, but two shots made from the line. But the ball hardly got out of Walker’s hands in overtime.
Lin? He had a good game. He played 26 minutes straight to end the game, finishing with 9 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He played fantastic defense on whoever he had to mark and cover, he made the right decisions when the ball was in his hands. It was, as we said, a good game. But Lin hardly touched the ball in the closing minutes of the game, once again standing on the corner, serving as something of a decoy, although the entire Jazz defense knew that every possessions was going to end with Walker shooting the ball. Walker had 8 assists, but it’s going to happen when your usage rating is 45.9%. Lin had a number of assists “ruined” by misses, but that’s not the issue. The problem is the Hornets basketball, even if in one small moment of the season it results in Walker making history.
Gordon Hayward had a big night for the Jazz, scoring 36 points while Trey Burke helped out with 25 points off the bench. The Jazz made a nice comeback run in the fourth quarter when the Hornets offense stalled as it tends to do, and wouldn’t go away until Walker hit a couple of free throws with less than 3 seconds in the game, giving the Hornets a five-point lead.
We’ll keep writing that Walker is fool’s gold. The Hornets simply gave him the ball to go and win the game on his own. It worked, also thanks to some big offensive rebounds (huge one by Cody Zeller), but a lot of this season’s losses have come from this exact approach. It’s impossible to really criticize someone after he sets a new franchise record while having a career night, but Walker plays the same way even when he’s throwing all bricks, and that might be the most fundamental problem the Hornets have, and will probably continue to ignore.