From down 23 in the third, to up 10 in the fourth before trailing by one point with 4.6 seconds left Wednesday night, the Charlotte Hornets put the crowd at Spectrum Center through a roller coaster in their season opener.
But two free throws from P.J. Washington lifted the Hornets to 123-122 victory against the Indiana Pacers, the same team that bounced them from the NBA’s play-in tournament a season ago.
The Hornets had trouble containing Indiana’s interior players all game, and the Pacers tossed it into Domantas Sabonis in the paint with less than four seconds remaining, allowing him to operate. Sabonis went into one of his spinning moves and tossed it up at the rim seemingly in slow motion, only to watch it carom off the side of the rim harmlessly and drop into Miles Bridges’ hands.
Here are three things we learned from the Hornets’ victory:
LAMELO BALL WAS COOKING
Perhaps he was inspired by the two special visitors he had in town, seated courtside on the end of the floor directly across from the Hornets’ bench. But whatever the catalyst was, the Hornets should think about bottling it up and popping the top open rather frequently.
With his father, LaVar, making his first appearance in Charlotte watching alongside wife Tina, Ball single-handedly kept the Hornets within striking distance during their first-half struggles. He cracked the 30-point plateau for the third time in his career, posting 31 to go with nine rebounds and seven assists. The most impressive thing: He tied a career-high with seven made 3-pointers, proving his well-chronicled stroke is reliable.
OH, THOSE INSIDE ISSUES
Fixing their problems on the interior was one of the areas the Hornets tried to address in the offseason. It was an issue all throughout last season, only to be magnified during their play-in tournament loss to Indiana.
Sabonis torched them for 14 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists that night during their play-in tournament loss in May, and he was unconscious from the opening tip, poking holes at their defense in the paint. Sabonis posted 22 points and seven boards through the first quarter-plus and established the Pacers’ game down low early, recording all but two of their initial 12 points in the paint.
He finished with 33 points and 15 rebounds, helping Indiana grab a 51-46 edge on the glass.
PLAYING IT SAFE WITH TERRY
The Hornets’ Terry Rozier was downgraded from probable to questionable leading into the game, and it was still unclear about an hour before tipoff if he would be available.
After warming up on the court, testing out his sprained left ankle with a few jumpers and some lateral movement, Rozier chatted with coach James Borrego for a minute or so before the decision was made. Rozier sat out, replaced in the starting lineup by Kelly Oubre.
The Hornets figured it would be best not to push it with Rozier. He’s way too valuable to their success.
“Yeah it’s a long season,” Borrego said. “It’s 82 games. It’s a marathon. We are not going to win a championship overnight and one night doesn’t define our season. Tonight is not about that. It’s about the long haul. We are going to be cautious with him if he’s ready to go and I trust him. Obviously, he’s one of those battlers, warriors that wants to be out here every night. And it’s killing him not being 100%. But we’ve got to be smart with him and he’s got to be honest in his evaluation. … It’s a long season and he understands that.”