The Charlotte Hornets might be out of the playoff race, but they aren’t making things easy on some Western Conference opponents still chasing the postseason, the latest example being a ridiculous 137-134 road win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.
PJ Washington was the man of the night for the Hornets, exploding for a career-high 43 points – 22 in the fourth quarter – on 16-of-24 shooting – 5-of-9 from 3-point range – six rebounds and five assists in the victory. This spectacular showing made him the third player in franchise history to go for 40-5-5 with at least five 3-pointers, joining Kemba Walker (four times) and Devonte’ Graham.
Adding to the madness was Dennis Smith Jr. (toe) and Gordon Hayward (thumb) joined the likes of LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier and Kelly Oubre Jr. on the injured list, leading to a starting lineup of two-way player Théo Maledon, Svi Mykhailiuk, rookie Bryce McGowens, Washington and Nick Richards. Regardless, Charlotte still had itself a three-point lead at the end of the first quarter, then committed seven turnovers and allowed the Thunder to score 45 points in the second to enter halftime down by 11. The Hornets would win the third by five, then ripped off a head-spinning 30-11 Washington-fueled run over the first six minutes of the fourth to take a 123-110 lead.
The Thunder wouldn’t go quietly though, responding with a 19-6 stretch to knot the game at 129-129 with about two-and-a-half minutes remaining. Still tied at 132 and 25 seconds left, Richards second-chance slammed in Washington’s missed floater to pull the Hornets ahead by two. From there, things got even crazier: Jalen Williams, JT Thor and then Josh Giddey all split a pair of free throws, with Giddey’s miss being the potential game-tying attempt with four seconds to go. Mykhailiuk grabbed the rebound, got fouled, sank both freebies and moments later, Williams got a good look at a game-tying 3-pointer, but it hit off the bank of the rim.
“A lot of guys played well,” said Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford, following the team’s third straight win. “Our ball movement was good. We had 34 assists and PJ was obviously terrific. We had the stretch where we were able to build the lead just playing through him. He scored, he created shots for everybody else. He played great.”
Added Washington, “We came in with the right attitude. Everybody played together. We got good shots. We played for each other. I’m proud of these guys. Credit to my teammates getting me in the right spots. I was just trying to be aggressive with the shots that I did take and just get in the paint and take easy shots. I felt like I got going early and just tried to keep at it.”
Maledon had season highs in points (19), assists (nine) and swatted a career-high four blocks, while Mykhailiuk recorded a season-high 18 points. Thor (14 points) and Kai Jones (12 points) both had new career bests, with Jones snagging a career-high 14 rebounds as well, for his first NBA double-double. Richards added 14 points and 11 rebounds for his third double-double in four games, while McGowens chipped in 11 points and a career-high three 3-pointers.
As a team, the Hornets shot 55.3% – tied for their third-best this season – and 14-of-35 from 3-point range (40.0%), despite committing 18 turnovers for 23 Thunder points. Their 44 fourth-quarter points were tied for the fourth-highest total in franchise history.
Oklahoma City had its fair share of statistical standouts. Isaiah Joe (career-high 33 points), Giddey (career-high 31 points) and Williams (31 points) become the second trio all younger than 24 years old in NBA history to each record 30 points in the same game, per ESPN Stats and Info. The only other to do so were also former Thunder players Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook back in 2012.
The Hornets will head back to Buzz City to tip off a four-game homestand starting with the Chicago Bulls on Friday, March 31 beginning at 7 PM ET. Follow all the action on Bally Sports Southeast and WFNZ 92.7 FM.