Reserve point guard Devonte Graham scored a career-high 35 points, including the winning free throws, in the Charlotte Hornets’ 122-120 overtime victory Tuesday over the Indiana Pacers.
The Hornets improved to 4-3.
Graham earned three free throws with 1.7 seconds left, drawing a foul from JaKarr Sampson. He missed the third, and there was a jostle for the ball that killed the remaining time.
In regulation, Graham gave the Hornets at two-point lead with 27 seconds left on two free throws. Then, ex-Hornet Jeremy Lamb tied the game with 5.2 seconds remaining on a 19-foot, pull-up jump shot.
Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon hit a mid-range jump shot with 16 seconds left to tie the game at 113-113. Graham drove to the rim, off a Bismack Biyombo pick, but was trapped at the baseline and turned over the ball, giving the Pacers possession with 1.6 seconds left. The Pacers didn’t get the ball to the rim off the ensuing possession, causing the extra period.
The Hornets trailed by as many as 19 points before a comeback that included reserve center Biyombo making his first five shots, all in the second half.
It’s not crazy to think that if Graham continues to play at the level of the season’s first two weeks, he belongs in the discussion for Sixth Man and Most Improved Player awards.
His ability to consistently make 3s has so dramatically changed how defenses must view him. Plus, his improvement allows coach James Borrego to frequently play point guards Graham and starter Terry Rozier together — a big boost to ball movement.
Were those first five Hornets games a mirage as far as 3-point shooting? Entering the game at Golden State on Saturday, the Hornets led the NBA in 3-point percentage at 41.9 percent. Over the next six quarters, they shot 9-of-42 from the arc. The Hornets’ 4-of-13 from 3 would have been far worse in the first half Tuesday had Graham not gone on a nine-point tear that included two 3s in a span of two minutes.
Borrego took a chance late in the fourth quarter Saturday at Golden State, inserting second-round pick Cody Martin for defensive purposes. Martin made several hustle plays in the final three minutes, and Borrego had Martin in the rotation both halves Tuesday.
Beyond the numbers
The Hornets made some beautiful passes in the first half. Two that stuck out: A two-man game between Marvin Williams and Graham that sprung Graham for an uncontested layup, and Graham’s no-look pass to P.J. Washington for a dunk. Post-Kemba Walker’s departure, the Hornets must be a more diverse offense, and their intentions are good.