A game that slowly started slipping away from the Charlotte Hornets in the second quarter got away for good midway through third, resulting in a 119-111 homestand-opening loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.
For the sixth consecutive contest, Kelly Oubre Jr. led the Hornets in scoring with 24 points – 6-of-12 shooting from 3-point range – five rebounds and two assists. Terry Rozier added another 22 points, six rebounds, a team-high eight assists and didn’t register a single turnover for a season-best-extending third consecutive game.
Down by three after the opening frame, Charlotte’s offense went dry in the second quarter, leading to 20 points on 28% shooting and an eventual 58-49 halftime lead for the Jazz. Utah then opened the third with a 31-17 run to push the advantage to 23 and while the Hornets rallied to get within seven halfway through the fourth, the hole was simply too deep to climb out of.
Utah’s play in the paint on both ends proved to be an overwhelming factor in the Charlotte loss. The Jazz had a plus-30 advantage in paint scoring (66-36) and won the rebounding battle by 17 (60-43), which included 20 offensive boards that turned into 25 second-chance points. The Hornets did swat a season-high 14 blocks, although that wasn’t a good representation of the team’s rim protection struggles, according to Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford afterwards.
“[Utah] owned the paint,” he said. “We had blocked shots, but our rim protection was nothing at all. We’ve been playing better defensively because that has not been happening. We weren’t even close tonight. Not close with our talk. You make mistakes with good players and they’re going to be at the rim, and that’s what happened. We lacked physicality, didn’t have the same mentality. Any NBA team, you’re going to be better when your talk is early. Our talk was late all night tonight. You can’t play like that.”
Added PJ Washington, who had 18 points in the loss: “They were just scoring at will in the paint – easy putback rebounds, second-chance points. That’s where we lost the game. They killed us in the first half then did the same thing in the second half.”
Utah’s Talen Horton-Tucker got within striking distance of a new career high for points, finishing with a season-high 37 – 22 in the second half – on 14-of-24 shooting, eight rebounds and 10 assists for his second double-double of the campaign. Both Walker Kessler (17 points and 16 rebounds, eight offensive) and Lauri Markkanen (13 points and 13 rebounds) also double-doubled, with the latter knocking down only 3-of-22 field-goal attempts (13.6%).
The Hornets will now close out their back-to-back with the first of two consecutive games against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, March 12 beginning at 5 PM ET. Follow all the action on Bally Sports Southeast and WFNZ 92.7 FM.