A pair of career-high scoring performances from two promising rookies helped the Charlotte Hornets close out a tough 2022-23 season on a high note with a 106-95 road win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Easter Sunday afternoon.
The 2022 draft class of Mark Williams and Bryce McGowens each fittingly finished their first NBA season with a personal-best 22 points in the victory. Williams also grabbed 10 rebounds and swatted two blocks to become the sixth rookie in NBA history with a 20-10 game that included a shooting percentage of at least 90% and multiple blocks (Joe Meriweather, Robert Parish, Hakeem Olajuwon, DeAndre Jordan and Walker Kessler), per Stathead.
Despite missing all 19 of their first-half 3-point attempts, the Hornets entered halftime down by only five, thanks to shooting a near-perfect 15-of-16 from the free-throw line. Towards the end of the third with the Cavaliers still leading by eight, a McGowens’ step-back 3-pointer kicked off a 23-6 run that put Charlotte ahead by nine with about seven minutes remaining. Cleveland got as close as only six before the Hornets pulled away for good down the closing stretch.
“I think in the first half, the key was we got to the free-throw line,” said Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford following the win. “We were in the bonus early. [Cleveland] didn’t shoot that well either. They made 10 threes, but they didn’t shoot a high percentage. We were plus 11 at the free-throw line, so I’d say that’s how we kind of hung in there. We didn’t start the game well. I thought when [the bench] came in, our energy level went up and when the starters re-entered, the rest of the game, we played with good energy and good purpose.”
“It feels good,” added Williams, in a post-game interview with Bally Sports Southeast. “We’ve been through a lot this year and we really wanted to end the season on the right note. I think did a really good job of that.”
Charlotte drained six of its final eight 3-point attempts after missing its first 24 to start the contest, although made up for it by going 26-of-30 at the charity stripe (86.7%). Théo Maledon (18), Svi Mykhailiuk (16), James Bouknight (12) and Nick Richards (11) also scored in double figures for the Hornets, who snapped a four-game losing streak with the victory, as well.
With the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed already in hand, Cleveland sat Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro and only played starting big men Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen for the first quarter. Sam Merrill led the hosts with a career-high 17 points off the bench, while fellow reserves Danny Green and Raul Neto each added 13 points.
With no more regular season games remaining on the schedule, the Charlotte Hornets now head into media exit interviews on Monday, April 10 and will be back on the hardwood again sometime in early July for NBA Summer League out in Las Vegas, NV.