Winning plays don’t always make the highlight reels, or even show up in the final box score at all. Often times, they happen so quickly that it’s hard to recognize their importance until after the game is over. At some point this season, every rotational player on the Hornets has made at least one of these pivotal, unsung, heads-up winning plays. Here’s the best from each one, with a notable catch: none of them are made shots (although some certainly led to them).
PJ Washington (Oct. 23 vs. Indiana)
This one is a sequence of winning plays. With the Hornets trailing 122-121 in the closing seconds of their season opener, Gordon Hayward missed a go-ahead layup, then ripped away the rebound from Chris Duarte underneath the Indiana basket. PJ Washington scooped up the loose ball and facing away from the rim, quickly forced up a backwards shot that probably had little chance of going in. Washington drew a shooting foul on Torrey Craig, hit both free throws and then locked down Domantas Sabonis in isolation at the buzzer to seal the 23-point comeback.
Cody Martin (Oct. 25 at Brooklyn)
Charlotte is holding a 90-86 lead with under eight minutes remaining at the Barclays Center. Looking to cut the Nets’ deficit to one possession, James Harden charges through Cody Martin on a drive to the basket, signaling an offensive foul. After an Ish Smith jumper, Harden tries a similar approach with the exact same result, giving the nine-time All-Star his fifth infraction and a seat on the bench. By the time Harden returns, it’s too late as the Hornets closed out the 111-95 win with a 21-9 run.
Miles Bridges (Nov. 10 at Memphis)
While this play didn’t come at the end of a game, in hindsight, it’s importance can’t be overlooked. Memphis was in the midst of erasing a 14-point first-half deficit with a 28-6 stretch between the second and third quarters. With Jaren Jackson Jr. on a fast break and the Grizzlies leading 70-62 about seven minutes into the second half, Miles Bridges chased down his former college teammate and swatted away what looked to be an easy layup. Kelly Oubre Jr. quickly canned a transition 3-pointer as Charlotte retook momentum with a 27-10 run in the 118-110 win.
Terry Rozier (Nov. 14 vs. Golden State)
Ahead by two in the closing moments, Terry Rozier attempts to advance the ball into Golden State territory following a pair of missed potential game-tying free throws by Kevon Looney. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala trap Rozier in the backcourt before he can get across, leading to a jumpball with 20 seconds remaining. Squaring down with Green at center court, Rozier overcomes the five-inch difference and perfectly times the ball flick back to Jalen McDaniels. McDaniels snags the loose ball and then passes to Rozier, who burns nine precious seconds of game clock before he’s eventually fouled. He drains both free throws and the Hornets win, 106-102.
LaMelo Ball (Nov. 22 at Washington)
Maybe the play of the season thus far for this category. Leading 105-103 with 35 seconds to go, LaMelo Ball fails to connect with Miles Bridges on an alley-oop dunk, sending the ball catapulting off the basket into Montrezl Harrell’s hands. A split second later, Ball pops it loose from Harrell and Cody Martin gains possession (note: Martin actually got credit for the steal here). The ball eventually finds its way to Terry Rozier, who milks another 20 seconds off the game clock before connecting on a dagger 3-pointer in the team’s 109-103 win.
Kelly Oubre Jr. (Dec. 10 vs. Sacramento)
Down five players because of Health and Safety Protocols, the Hornets needed every winning play they could muster in this homestand finale. With Charlotte leading by three and 2:24 remaining, Oubre pokes the ball away from De’Aaron Fox – who already had 27 points and 10 in the four quarter – on a crossover, leading to a pair of eventual Gordon Hayward free throws. The Hornets won 124-123 after Fox missed two costly free throws with two seconds left, proving that every possession in a one-point victory certainly matters in the end.
Gordon Hayward (Dec. 10 vs. Sacramento)
In this very same game with the Hornets now holding a one-point lead and less than 40 seconds remaining, Terence Davis strips Miles Bridges on a drive, causing the ball to bounce into the left corner. Gordon Hayward beats the speedy De’Aaron Fox to retain possession, lines up shot to induce the Sacramento double team, then hits Cody Martin with a pass up near the 3-point break. Martin drains a pivotal catch-and-shoot triple to put the Hornets up two in what became an eventual victory.
Jalen McDaniels (Dec. 23 at Denver)
Down 19 points late in the third quarter, this was another game that the Hornets had virtually zero margin of error down the stretch. Tied at 101 with 3:40 to go, Nikola Jokić spins around PJ Washington down near the left block, but Washington quickly recovers to deny the layup attempt. Jalen McDaniels flies in from nowhere to rip the rebound away from Jokić, then throws the ball off the reigning MVP’s leg to give possession to Charlotte. Washington would sink a go-ahead 3-pointer at the other end and the Hornets went on to win, 115-107.
Ish Smith (Dec. 23 at Denver)
This victory over the Nuggets wouldn’t have happened without the play of veteran guard Ish Smith either. With the Hornets leading 110-107 at the under-minute mark, Jokić tries again to post PJ Washington, but as he raises up the ball, Smith strips it away and grabs possession (note: this looks like a steal in real time, although the 6-1 Smith was actually awarded a block). Ten seconds later, Washington finds a wide-open Smith in the left corner for a rare 3-pointer to close the door on Denver.
Mason Plumlee (Jan. 8 vs. Milwaukee)
Charlotte led by 15 at the 5:18 mark of the fourth quarter, before Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending NBA Champions came roaring back to make things interesting. Following a 13-4 Bucks run that cut the Hornets’ advantage to six, LaMelo Ball misfired on a 3-pointer and the defensive rebound was gobbled up by Bobby Portis. Mason Plumlee snuck up behind Portis to pry away the ball, which was then quickly picked up by Miles Bridges. While the Hornets didn’t end up scoring on this possession, they burned about 15 seconds off the clock to further dim Milwaukee’s comeback hopes in the 114-106 Charlotte win.