Not all losses are created equal and Saturday’s 109-107 defeat for the Hornets at the hands of the Thunder came with small wins in an overarching loss.
The rally late in the fourth quarter from Charlotte that nearly culminated in an improbable win? An obvious one. Intertwined in that was Miles Bridges’ trio of consecutive three-pointers that punctuated an 18-5 in 2:04 and tied the game at 107-107 with 9.7 seconds left.
“I just wanted to get a chance to give the team a chance to win,” Bridges said.
Understandably, though, Bridges was focused on how to avoid needing a late rally to get the team back in the game.
“We got to stop playing from behind because we did the same thing in Cleveland,” he continued. “I feel like once we get our lead we just need to just continue to up the lead and play defense. I feel like when we get a lead, we tend to get comfortable. But I just wanted to give our team a chance to win. I feel like we could build off on it but we just have to start the game with a lot more energy.”
Charlotte’s lead on Saturday came in the first half and reached double digits early in the second period. LaMelo Ball played a big factor in that early advantage, scoring nine points in the opening period after a scoreless debut on Wednesday.
“He looked like he was having fun, more aggressive, more confident,” head coach James Borrego said. “You know, he’s a rookie. This the first time he’s gone through this. This is new for him. So, I thought he handled himself very well tonight, played much better tonight.”
Ball’s performance was all the more valuable considering how poorly the starting backcourt of Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier played. The two combined for 33 points and played a role in the late comeback but shot a combined 9-for-31 from the field and 4-for-14 from three.
Despite his strong performance in his second game, though, Ball managed just 15:19 of game time, 30 seconds fewer than he played in his debut.
“It’s tough,” Borrego said of potentially finding more minutes for Ball. “I mean, there’s a number of guys that are capable of handling minutes, you know, and I’ve got to juggle that lineup and that rotation. And, you know, LaMelo’s got to continue to do his part and, you know, it’s my job to do what’s best for this club.
“I thought LaMelo played extremely well tonight. So, I’ll look at the film and see what that looks like. Maybe there were some more minutes for him, you know, out there, but I’m confident in his production I thought tonight was a good step for him.”
Ball and Bridges serving as positives on the night is not a shock. Together, the two excelled in the preseason. P.J. Washington’s strong play was a pleasant surprise, though, after the forward struggled early on this year.
“I thought P.J. was much more aggressive tonight,” Borrego said. “He missed some bunnies around the rim, missed some free throws, but I’ll take that aggression. At least he’s getting there. He’s putting pressure on the rim. He’s getting to the free throw line. He’s talking he’s communicating. I saw a different P.J. out there tonight.”
The positives on Saturday were overridden by the negatives, which included a dry spell offensively that began in the second quarter and spanned into the second half. Through the opening 16 minutes, Charlotte shot 14-of-25 from the field, 5-of-10 from the arc and outscored the Thunder 42-31.
The ensuing 30 minutes saw Charlotte shoot 30% from the field, 25% from three and be outscored 71-47.
For now, the small wins are going to have to suffice for the Hornets as the upcoming schedule won’t get any easier, starting with a home game against Brooklyn on Sunday.