Hornets Come Up Short on Zeller’s Career Night

Back-to-Back Defending NBA Champs too Much for Charlotte to Handle
by Matt Rochinski

By Matt Rochinski

The Charlotte Hornets welcomed the Golden State Warriors to Spectrum Center on Monday and pushed the back-to-back defending NBA Champs to their limit behind near-perfection from Cody Zeller before falling, 121-110.

Zeller scored a game- and career-high 28 points on 13-of-14 (92.9 percent) shooting from the field, with his only miss coming off a DeMarcus Cousins deflection that was scored as a blocked shot at the 7:41 mark of the fourth quarter after Zeller had made his first 11 shots. Zeller was also one rebound shy of his second-straight double-double and continued a string of strong play that has seen him average 13.5 points and 9.7 rebounds in his last eight games, including a string of six-straight double-digit scoring performances. This ties a career-long streak of such games set from 2/27-3/8/15.

“I thought Cody [Zeller] was great. He’s just battling, playing so hard. Creating offense, battling defensively,” Hornets Head Coach James Borrego said. “He’s done this two nights in a row. I thought last game was maybe his best game of the season. I think he followed it up with another impressive performance. Warrior. He’s battling, competing. [He] gave us a chance tonight. So a fantastic job by Cody.”

Kemba Walker followed Zeller with 23 points and six assists and has averaged 27.3 points and 6.7 dimes in the first three games out of the All-Star break. He connected on nine field goals in the contest, bringing his career total to 3,954 and setting a new franchise record for career field goals, passing Dell Curry with 3.951.

Charlotte kept things close in the first quarter and pulled to within 31-30 with 20.6 seconds left in the frame before Kevin Durant’s three-pointer pushed it to a four-point deficit heading to the second. Durant’s trey would spark a 14-3 Warriors run spanning the end of the first quarter and into the second that gave Golden State its first double-digit lead, 45-33.

Still, the Hornets refused to fold to the back-to-back defending champs, seven times cutting the Warriors lead to five points or less in the second and third quarters. However, each time Charlotte would make a run, Golden State would not get flustered and played with the poise of champions, never allowing the Hornets to come any closer than three points and always responding with a run of its own to push the lead back to double digits.

“We talked about getting off to a better start against a very good team. I think we held our own there in that first quarter. It gave us a chance down the stretch,” said Borrego. “But you know, we have to come out and be better than that. We need to be taking advantage of first quarters. We’ve got to be the guys hitting first and not taking that blow. I think tonight we tried. I think we saw improvement there. I think we grew. I saw some resiliency there. I don’t think anybody was hanging their heads. Even when they made shots we went right back at them. I didn’t see anybody backing away. We were down and we cut it back to seven. So I think we saw some progress there, some resilience throughout the game.”

By the time the fourth quarter hit its midway point, the Hornets just didn’t have enough energy left to keep up with the Warriors pace, falling behind by as many as 17 points before eventually succumbing to an 11-point loss.

“I think we competed defensively tonight. Even when you compete and do everything right they still made shots. You know, there the champs for a reason. They can do this to teams,” said Borrego. “I think we competed. They had three 30-point quarters which isn’t great for us obviously. We don’t want to have one 30-point quarter, let alone three. I think our guys tried. In the fourth quarter we got them down to a 23-point quarter, which is really one of their best quarters, in that they typically put teams away in the fourth. I think our guys battled, gave us a chance defensively.”

Jeremy Lamb paced Charlotte’s reserves with 16 points, a team-high seven assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes off the bench, while Nicolas Batum (14) and Marvin Williams (11) also scored in double-figures for the host team.

Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 26 points, while DeMarcus Cousins recorded a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Draymond Green also notched a double-double (14 points, 10 assists) for Golden State.

The Hornets close their four-game homestand with a 7 p.m. tip on Wednesday against the Rockets.

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