The Charlotte Hornets defeated the Miami Heat on Wednesday night in what could have been the final game of the season.
If Wednesday night’s game in Miami was the final contest of the season for the Charlotte Hornets, then they went out in style. The Hornets defeated the Heat 109-98 in what could be their final game of the 2019-2020 season. The NBA announced around 9:30 pm ET that the regular season would be suspended beginning Thursday as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Play will be suspended just hours after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was confirmed to have the virus shortly before tip-off in Utah’s game in Oklahoma City.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a global pandemic on Wednesday, as it has now infected approximately 120,000 people. It remains to be seen how long the pandemic will suspend NBA competition, but if Wednesday was indeed the end of Charlotte’s youth-experiment season, it will have come to a close in a strangely encouraging fashion.
After a dismal start to the game, the Hornets dominated the final three quarters against the Heat.
Defensively, the Hornets couldn’t have gotten off to a much worse start on Wednesday night. They allowed Miami to make 15 of their first 16 field goals, and surrendered 40 first-quarter points. Charlotte trailed by 18 at the end of the first period, and all signs appeared to be trending towards a blowout on the road. In the second quarter though, the Hornets really buckled down on the defensive end, holding the Heat to just 11 points and four made field goals. Charlotte also put up an impressive 37 points of their own in the quarter to take an eight-point lead into the locker room.
The Hornets continued to outplay the Heat even in the second half, as they outscored their opponent 50-47 en route to the 11-point win. After such a dreadful start, the team’s performance over the final three quarters is an extremely encouraging sign for the franchise’s future, and showed just how good the young core can be. Considering the fact that they played this well against one of the top teams in the East on the road makes their performance even more impressive.
Hornets head coach James Borrego has kept his team competitive all season long, and has undoubtedly exceeded expectations in his second year as the head man. Charlotte came into this season expected to be one of the worst teams, if not the worst team, in the entire NBA. While it’s clear that the Hornets aren’t ready to compete for a playoff spot yet, Borrego and his young players deserve tons of credit for the job they have done this season.
Young guards Devonte’ Graham and Caleb Martin continued their impressive play as they combined for 49 points and nine assists.
When the Hornets drafted Cody Martin early in the second round of the 2019 NBA Draft, many analysts believed Charlotte reached to get Martin with the 36th-overall pick. When they followed that move by signing his twin brother Caleb as an undrafted player, neither Martin was expected to have much–if any–role with the Hornets. The twins quickly proved in the preseason that they hold NBA potential, as Cody made the Hornets’ roster and Caleb was given a two-way deal.
Caleb spent the majority of the season with Charlotte’s G-League affiliate Greensboro Swarm, where he averaged 23.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Like his brother though, he has made his presence felt when given an opportunity with the Hornets. In his last two games, Caleb has scored 42 points, dished out seven assists, and has recorded seven steals. Not to mention he has played good defense as well. He is shooting better than 44% on the year following Wednesday night’s contest, and is shooting a very impressive 54% from beyond the arc. The Martin twins aren’t nearly the highest-profile rookies from this year’s draft class, but it’s impossible to say that they haven’t made their presence felt in a big way.
Another young player who played a key role for Charlotte on Wednesday night is Devonte’ Graham. Throughout the first half of the season perhaps no player was as deserving of the Most Improved Player award as Graham; however, towards the All-Star break his play started to fall off a bit. Over his past seven games though, the second-year point guard is averaging almost 23 points and six assists per game. It’s also worth noting that he has made 28 threes over that same span.
Graham finished with 30 points and six dimes in the win over the Heat, as he played 37 minutes in the absence of fellow guard Terry Rozier. After hitting a series of slumps over the past month or two, it is nice to see Graham once again finding his stride. With big production coming from Graham and the Martin twins, along with PJ Washington and Miles Bridges, the Hornets future is perhaps as bright as it’s ever been. The question that needs addressing now is simply how long that future will have to be put on hold.