There was a palpable buzz around the Spectrum Center on Friday, and understandably so.
What with coach Steve Clifford being back in the building (after the team announced late Thursday that he would end his leave from the team next Tuesday), it made sense the team was optimistic going into Friday’s matchup with the Utah Jazz.
Then when team owner Michael Jordan showed for the game and sat courtside, there was only more excitement in the building – and for once the Hornets capitalized on it, withstanding a career night from Donovan Mitchell to win 99-88.
Neither team was ever able to mount much of a lead, but rather watched as Kemba Walker and Mitchell exchanged baskets for the majority of the night.
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But with less than five minutes to go in the game, the Hornets found a second wind (courtesy of a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist steal and dunk) to take a slight edge. They then turned up the defensive intensity, finally making life difficult for Mitchell, and pulled away as the Jazz offense sputtered.
Three who mattered
Mitchell: He justified the buzz surrounding his potential Rookie of the Year campaign, scoring 22 in the first half alone to finish with 35.
Walker: It wasn’t close to 41 points like last game, but if not for Walker’s heroics late in the shot clock at multiple points, this game could have gotten ugly by the second quarter.
Frank Kaminsky: For a team whose bench has been unreliable at best this season, Kaminsky’s 16 were a boon for the second unit.
▪ Both teams sported “I Have A Dream” warmup shirts before the game in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday. Malik Monk said Thursday at practice he credits King as the reason he’s allowed to play basketball today.
▪ Mitchell, who the Jazz picked two spots after the Hornets chose Monk in the 2017 NBA draft, started the game with three straight 3-pointers. He leads the Jazz in scoring with 18.4 points per game, and after another breakout night, it makes sense why.
▪ A surprisingly quiet night from Dwight Howard, especially considering the Jazz were without top center Rudy Gobert, who is still out with a knee injury. Howard only had eight points and 13 rebounds, but Jeremy Lamb’s eight helped pick up the slack on the boards.
▪ Tony Bradley would have been a starter for North Carolina this season (and a potential lottery pick in 2018) had he stayed in college, but instead the rookie big man didn’t see the floor Friday.
▪ Treveon Graham, originally signed with the Utah Jazz as an undrafted free agent in 2015, played 12 minutes for the Hornets Friday night.
▪ Friday’s game marked the 18th anniversary of former Hornet Bobby Phills’ passing. Phills’ jersey remains the only retired one in Hornets history.
▪ Saturday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder tips at 5 p.m. instead of the typical 7 p.m. start time.
▪ Former Duke standout Rodney Hood was fined $35,000 but not suspended for smacking a cellphone out of a fan’s hand during Utah’s game Wednesday against the Wizards.
B+ OFFENSE: Where Mitchell did everything for the Jazz, the Hornets rolled out a much more balanced offense. Six players finished in double digits, despite some less-than-ideal shooting percentages.
B DEFENSE: Through three quarters, the Jazz made over 45 percent of their 3-point attempts. The fourth quarter was the one that mattered though, and then the Hornets kept Utah to just two makes from deep on 13 tries.
B+ COACHING: It wasn’t pretty, but acting head coach Stephen Silas made the most of one of his last games in charge – and got the Hornets’ home stretch heading back in the right direction.