Defense Powers Hornets to 7th Win in 8 Games

The last time the Charlotte Hornets played at home, they didn’t have the appropriate approach to face a youthful, yet hungry, Orlando Magic squad. In their first appearance at Spectrum Center since that disappointing loss one week ago, they handled things a whole lot better, leading to a 121-98 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday evening.

Terry Rozier had a team-high 24 points and nine assists for the hosts, while Miles Bridges double-doubled with 22 points, a season-high-tying 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks. PJ Washington also had season bests in both points (20) and 3-pointers (six) after going a combined 0-of-16 from deep over his past five games.

After a so-so start, Charlotte closed the first quarter on a 16-3 run to take a 37-20 lead, then maintained that 17-point advantage heading into the break. Oklahoma City got to within nine by the 4:13 mark of the third, but the Hornets regrouped with a frame-closing 11-3 stretch, then put the Thunder away for good in the fourth.

“I thought our mindset was there tonight,” said Hornets Head Coach James Borrego. “Throughout the game, there was some adversity and we responded to it. We nipped it quickly and that’s the goal here. When things go away from us, we quickly gather, regroup, show the resiliency and bounce back. I didn’t love the first quarter early, but we found our rhythm there. We started getting some stops and putting together a run. A very solid performance tonight.”

Charlotte shot 46% and the ball movement was major reason why, leading to 34 assists (matches its third-highest single-game total of the season). Added Borrego, “We had 22 [assists] at the half. It speaks to the mentality. We weren’t trying to do this by ourselves. The ball was moving, it was popping and obviously, we were making shots. That’s our identity.”

Despite moving to 9-0 when holding their opponents to under 100 points, the Hornets had some momentary lapses defensively, particularly at the basket. Oklahoma City shot 14-of-19 on first-half rim attempts (74%) before finishing 23-of-38 (61%). On the plus side though, Charlotte made up for it with 22 points off 12 Thunder turnovers and 33 overall fast-break points.

“Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (29 points) is one of the best in the league at getting to the rim,” said Bridges. “We knew he was going to get his buckets, but we wanted to stop all the other guys. [We need to] just contest shots and be long when people start driving. Make them second guess if they want to drive or pass. We did a better job of that in the second half, but they definitely got a lot more layups than we wanted. That’s their team, that’s what they do.”

The Hornets will now close out their short two-game homestand on Sunday, Jan. 23 against the Atlanta Hawks beginning at 7 PM ET.