It was a game pitting a team desperately clinging to its playoff lives against one trying to uncover the true depth of its youth. Two teams in a losing trend of late – one with little incentives to halt it, while the other tried desperately to do so.
And though it looked as if the Pelicans might, in fact, down the visiting Charlotte Hornets Wednesday night, leading 99-96 with just over four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, a win that several players had told the media lately on various occasions they were hoping would come in the final 10 days of the season, Kemba Walker’s sheer grit in the final minutes salvaged the victory for the visiting squad, 115-109
Another night, another game filled with effort and solid individual performances sprinkled throughout, but not enough to tack one into the win column.
Walker finished with a team-high 32 points – 21 of those coming in the final quarter, where he shots 7-of-9 from the floor while knocking down a pair of 3-pointers and going 5-of-6 from the free throw line. For the game, Walker totaled seven assists and knocked down 12-of-13 shots from the charity stripe.
Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky knocked down a trey to knot things at 99-all with 3:52 left, and from there, Walker scored the Hornets’ next nine points out-scoring the Pelicans 9-2 over a 1:51 stretch of game time. Kaminsky then knocked down a pair of free throws to push the visitor’s advantage to nine points, closing a 14-2 run. He finished with 21 points off the bench for the Hornets (36-42).
“I thought we competed at a much, much higher level, but (Kemba) just made tough shots with guys in his face,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “You’ve got to give him credit.”
Julius Randle led the Pelicans (32-47) with 34 points, including a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers with 11.2 seconds to go to pull the Pelicans within five, though they would get no closer. He finished 12-for-19 from the field, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc and 7-of-8 from the free throw line, and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds. At times, it appeared like Randle did everything he could to put his team on his back – notching a game-high nine first-quarter points and 16 at halftime, as his team trailed 59-55.
But as they’ve done lately with four guards out of the lineup with various injuries, the Pelicans struggled with turnovers, committing 19 on Wednesday – their third game out of four with at least that many.
Some of that comes from lineups playing together without a season’s worth of chemistry, along with missing guards and having a traditional wing like Stanley Johnson running the point off the bench – though Johnson committed just two turnovers Wednesday. The team’s main bigs – Randle, Jahlil Okafor and Christian Wood – combined for 13.
And though the Pelicans finished shooting 47.1 percent from the floor after starting the game 8-for-24 in the first quarter, the team managed its fewest shot attempts (85) since Jan. 21 – largely due to the missed opportunities through their unforced errors.
“When you have (19) turnovers, their shooting percentage goes up, their points in the paint goes up, their fast break points go up,” Gentry said. “I thought we played good defense, but when those happen (19) times, you don’t get those shots at the basket, and they’re not forced turnovers.
“We’re trying to do things that aren’t there, and that’s getting us in trouble.”
Ian Clark and Johnson both logged 17 points apiece, both just one point shy of their respective season-highs. Johnson finished 2-for-4 from beyond the arc, while Clark snagged six rebounds.