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Scott Fowler: Even in their first loss, in OT to Boston, Charlotte Hornets show positive signs

Scott Fowler, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Basketball

The Charlotte Hornets returned to Earth Monday night, losing a winnable game against Boston, 140-129, in overtime.

But Charlotte (3-1) also looked capable in the loss of trading punches with one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams, and that was a positive sign for a Charlotte squad that continues to generate early-season buzz.

“This team has fight,” Hornets coach James Borrego said afterward. “Obviously, this team belongs. We’re not backing down from anybody. We’re not going anywhere.”

After a four-game, early-season sample, I’d agree. The Hornets, who next play at Orlando (1-3) Wednesday, look more capable and deeper than the NBA team we are used to seeing around here.

Charlotte, which had started 3-0 for what was somehow the first time in franchise history, did blow some chances at the end Monday to go 4-0. The most notable came when — tied at 122-all in regulation — Charlotte couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a pass from Gordon Hayward to LaMelo Ball with 11.3 seconds to go and instead managed to get it stolen by Marcus Smart.

Boston didn’t make a last shot then, either. But the Celtics dominated in overtime, scoring the game’s final 14 points as the Hornets ran out of gas before a home crowd of 17,238.

 

Let’s point out that crowd number again — 17,238. On a Monday.

Yes, several thousand were Boston fans. But most of them were Hornets supporters. Spectrum Center hardly ever has a crowd like that unless it’s a Friday or Saturday night. LaMelo is a headliner who keeps drawing more people inside the big tent — a few thousand seemed to have on his No. 2 jersey, too.

The Hornets’ marquee player continues to play well, keeping Charlotte in this one several times. He had 25 points and 9 assists, with 21 of the 25 points coming on his seven three-pointers. He also threw an 80-foot strike to Hayward for a layup, the kind of dime that Sam Darnold can only dream of pulling out of his pocket right now. That extraordinary assist drew the biggest cheer of the night.

But Ball also fouled out of his first NBA game, committing a couple of totally avoidable infractions. He didn’t make a two-point shot and also didn’t present Hayward a good target on that last in-bounds play, where he should have gone into the backcourt to ensure the pass’s success.

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