With inconsistency being one of the Charlotte Hornets’ hallmarks, curious minds wanted to know if the team was finally making changes.
A date with Indiana two days after their biggest accomplishment of the season provided the Hornets with an opportunity to see if they’re capable of handling wealth and accomplishing something they’ve only managed once this season: winning games in a row .
They could not.
The Hornets failed to defend a nearly double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, falling to Indiana 116-111 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Sunday.
“I think we started the game really well,” said Mason Plumlee. “I felt like Milwaukee took something away. But they got their offensive going in the second and fourth. Still, we had a chance… (to) tie in the end, but they made one move more than us.
“It didn’t result in a win but I know we’re playing better. We give ourselves a chance and the momentum continues. We just have to make sure it leads to wins along the way.”
Here are some key takeaways from the Hornets’ first loss in Indiana in their last four games:
The numbers in the last quarter were ugly and the Hornets (11-30) again failed to eliminate an opponent. Indiana amassed 43 points, shot 52.2% overall and went to the free throw line 17 times, making 15 times.
After being held at bay for most of the game, the Pacers overpowered the Hornets.
“We couldn’t stop them,” said Charlotte coach Steve Clifford. “Our offense was more than enough to win. If you score 32 points away (in the closing stages), you must win this game. They hurt us with pick and rolls.
“We lined up well for three quarters and played really well. And then our defense wasn’t good enough in the fourth quarter.”
Annoying fouls plague LaMelo
One of the things that LaMelo Ball has struggled with over his two-plus seasons is foul problems.
It wasn’t as common as it was during his rookie and sophomore campaigns, but it occasionally crept up on some of his outings this season and happened against the Pacers. Ball missed the final 53.3 seconds of the game after being fouled.
The guard accumulated three fouls early in the first half, forcing him to sit for part of the second quarter and allowing Indiana to get back into play. He also conceded a fourth foul midway through the third quarter and, although Clifford kept him grounded for a few more minutes, was forced to sit down for the final 5:01 of the period.
Ultimately, it didn’t cost the Hornets as they ended the quarter on a 10-0 run. But Charlotte needed Ball to stay out of trouble to help maintain a six-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
“He’s trying really hard, he’s putting a lot into it – his team defense too, not just his defense on the ball,” said Clifford. “Tonight two of those fouls were off the ball. So it’s not like he’s guarding a guy and knocking him down… The third was frustrated because his shot was blocked. And one was involved in a small shielding operation. So they’re a bit unhappy. It’s not like he does all these crazy things.”
Ball also picked up a technical foul in the fourth quarter after Tony Brothers booed him for showing his frustration by hitting the padding on the brace after Ball thought it was a no-call on a drive to the basket.
He was called for his fifth foul with 7:37 to go and had to sit down with the team by two. Ball’s streak of more than 20 points in 14 straight games, the longest streak of his career and the second-longest in franchise history, faltered as he finished with 13 points and eight assists.
“It’s just difficult for us when he only plays 24 minutes,” said Clifford. “He wants to be out there. So that’s just part of his growth.”
A second unit with a new look
Clifford has not been able to use specific combinations and lineups as the list is constantly changing. however, he may have stumbled upon an effective one against the Pacers.
The Hornets started the first half with a redesigned second unit and were rewarded with solid production. Dennis Smith Jr. and Cody Martin led the defensive effort. Charlotte’s front line, meanwhile, was full-length, which caused some seizures at the Pacers as starter Jalen McDaniels played alongside JT Thor and Mark Williams.
That unit helped keep Indiana (23-18) scoreless in the last six minutes of the first quarter and limited the Pacers to 15 points, the earliest number of points the Hornets have accumulated in a quarter this season.
“Everyone who comes into the game feels like they can help us or give that extra momentum,” McDaniels said. “Dennis and JT, they come into every game and do their job and today they did it at the highest level. All credit goes to them.”
This story was originally published January 8, 2023 8:05 p.m.