No one would’ve blamed Steve Clifford if he rubbed his eyes a few times due to possible bewildered excitement, mixed in with a twinge of anxiety.
Think about it: Nothing ever comes easy for the Charlotte Hornets. So, there had to be a good part of their coach that was equally thrilled how things were transpiring while also bracing for the worst. That’s because these Hornets have a bad habit of taking the difficult road, often opting to traverse the path littered with potholes instead of the smoothly-paved lane.
“Twenty points in this league, it’s just not that big of a deal in the first half,” Clifford said. “Watch the games every night. What you have to do is you have to stay away from what we did. They turned up their defense in the second quarter. That’s when the game changed.
“At that point of the game, it’s all about having good possessions. It’s not like you are managing anything. You’ve got to keep playing. So, I don’t really think about it that way.”
Good thing he didn’t. Otherwise, his blood pressure might have increased a tick or two after the Hornets blew that double-digit lead and had to come back to edge Toronto 119-116 in front of a smattering of 11,526 at Spectrum Center on Friday night.
“We got punched in the face there,” Gordon Hayward said, “and they were on a huge run, and we couldn’t get good shots and they were getting layups and threes and anything they wanted. So, we hit some big shots and that settled us a little bit and then we were able to get some stops and kind of closed the game.
“But it’s certainly not the way we wanted to win. I think when you are up that big, you want to close out the game.”
Call it another lesson learned for the Hornets. But at least they could smile about it. For once.
“I was taught no matter how ugly it is, you get the win, you got to go home and take it,” Terry Rozier said. “But boy, that was ugly. That was ugly You’ve got to find a way to win and we did that.
“You’ve got to understand in the NBA you’ve got to play 48 minutes because we already know how this stuff goes. Guys are not going to quit. This is the NBA. You are playing with the best players in the world. So, you just try to give the effort and keep that until the end of the game.”
Here’s what else the Hornets had to say about their latest victory:
On Terry Rozier’s playmaking and scoring run with LaMelo Ball out
“He’s just picking up where Melo left off,” Bridges said. “Melo is usually the guy with 13 or 14 assists, but Terry is doing a great job without him. Terry is a true PG. He just scores the ball really well, so people forget that. He’s doing a really great job for us and I’m just happy he’s playing the way he’s playing.”
“We need that,” Hayward said. “We’ve got so many guys that can score, and when we get in the paint and play unselfishly, and pass it and move it and let guys be successful and utilize their talents, I mean that’s huge. So, I thought he did a great job of distributing tonight as well as looking for his own. He had a huge shot down there down the stretch, too. So, we need him to be like that.”
“My coaches and my teammates do a great job of just uplifting me and they are getting to their spots and knocking down shots,” Rozier said. “My job is easy. Just find them.”
On Gordon Hayward’s aggressiveness
“Yeah, I feel like I’ve been trying to do that the last couple of games here,” Hayward said. “I just need to continue that. Just playing with more force, really just trying to attack the rim, whether for myself or teammates. I just think it’s good for the team.”
“Nah, I ain’t going to lie — these last two games he’s been super aggressive,” Rozier said, “and I’ve been meaning to talk to him. I’m going to talk to him tomorrow, but we need him to stay in that bag. He’s going to take our team to another level if he stays aggressive like that.”
On Brandon Miller’s outing
“He did a good job,” Clifford said. “The one thing about him is he’s a quick learner. He had a couple of possessions in the first half where he kind of tried to iso a little bit and it didn’t work out well, and then in the second half he created everything trying to get action off the ball. He made one of the biggest shots in the game obviously — the three across from the bench.
“But he just plays, man. You watch him, he doesn’t get frazzled, he doesn’t make mistakes. He’s very focused on the next play, which you don’t teach. However, that’s his makeup. But he’s into every dribble on each end of the floor and he plays with incredible composure.”
On Mark Williams being in the lineup after missing one game with a back contusion
“It helps in a couple ways,” Clifford said. “(Staying) organized and then also, if we choose to, we can stay bigger, which against these guys will help us. It wasn’t as bad the last game (against Chicago), but three of the last four games our biggest problem has been defensive rebounding, so the more size you have the better chance you’re going to have of doing that.”
On Cody Martin’s rehabilitation progress
“He’s a lot closer,” Clifford said. “In terms of what a timetable would be, I don’t know. And he’s been coming through the harder workouts feeling better. So, fingers crossed on that one.”