The Hornets are changing their culture. Their win over Boston puts the NBA on notice

·5 min read
Winslow Townson/AP

Don’t think they weren’t aware of their latest feat.

These Charlotte Hornets have broken down barriers over this past week and change, accomplishing things that previously seemed beyond reach. They aren’t fazed at all by the backbreaking losing skids that preceded many of their arrivals with the franchise, opting to simply shrug it off and pretend they never existed. Until they are shattered into pieces anyway.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of history,” LaMelo Ball said. “I think we had some in New York and Philly. It be crazy when I hear that for real. But it makes you want to go out there right now and just win for real.”

That’s exactly what the Hornets did on Wednesday night, handling business in another one of their own personal house of horrors. In holding off Boston 111-102, they snapped their nine-game losing streak at TD Garden and knocked over another barricade blocking the path to a better long-term prognosis.

With a national television audience providing more than enough onlookers tuned in to witness a matchup that had a lengthy list of interesting angles to it, the Hornets were impressive in the clutch.

“It’s huge,” Terry Rozier said. “To do it for the world to watch and to let people know how serious we are and how good we want to be, to be the best you’ve got to beat the best and we just want to keep going. We are not satisfied. We want to stay humble and just keep playing hard and having fun. That’s the main thing. If you see us laughing and smiling, we are just having fun.”

There was plenty of that against the Celtics. Lots of it. Closing out Boston and sending fans scurrying for the exits each time they staved off the Celtics in the fourth quarter was an unusual sight, but it’s their latest salvo to the rest of the league.

These Hornets are different.

“We just are pretty much trying to change the culture, bring winning here,” Ball said. “A lot of winning and like we said every game, just trying to win.”

Entering Friday, the Hornets (25-20) are seventh in the Eastern Conference standings and only 1.5 games behind Cleveland and Philadelphia, who are in a tie for fifth. They’re two games ahead of eighth-place Washington.

Taking down one of their arch-nemesis represented yet another leap forward. Particularly with it coming on the heels of their losing streak-busting triumph over Philadelphia and their successful two-game stint against Milwaukee. The Hornets have shown they can knock off some of the league’s upper crust and, well, have been involved in their share of clunkers with some of the league’s bottom feeders.

As a young team that’s trying to fuse itself together, the importance of producing moments chock full of poise in the game’s latter stages is integral. There were four occasions in the fourth quarter when the Celtics trimmed the Hornets’ double-digit edge to single numbers.

But Boston could never retake the lead.

Remember that brutal 140-129 overtime loss to the Celtics on Oct. 25? The night the Hornets were outscored by a combined 48-32 margin in the fourth quarter and overtime? Instead of forgetting about it, the details were etched in the Hornets’ memories.

“Well, we’ve come a long way,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “You think back to the first game against Boston, and we had that game in control. Very similar game. We controlled the game for the most part and we had a 10-point lead, somewhere in that same range. And we just couldn’t execute down the stretch or make a big rough shot or get a stop. And I actually reflected back on that as we were going through it.”

Or so he says. Miles Bridges’s recollection wasn’t quite the same.

“Yeah, I referenced that game,” Bridges said. “J.B. trying to take credit. Nah, yeah I referenced that in the timeout. Yeah, we’ve been here before. Just know what we are doing and finish the game right, and that’s what we did.”

Ball also had his hand in it, burying a huge 3-pointer to put them ahead by nine after the Celtics shaved it down to six with just over two minutes remaining. He found Rozier on their subsequent offensive possession for a 3-pointer to catapult their advantage back to double digits.

The calmness the 20-year-old displayed despite committing eight turnovers was impeccable. But then again anxiety isn’t a part of Ball’s vocabulary.

“I ain’t going to lie,” Ball said, “my dad, the way he had me, you can’t get nervous in basketball. He said nervous is when you’ve got nowhere to go or somebody has a gun to your head or you don’t have (any) food. So that’s nervousness. So just coming out here and playing basketball ... Nah, never nervous.”

Certainly not with a double-double on the books — even though he had a cold shooting night overall — and a triple-double still as a possibility since he tabulated 15 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds leading into the game’s final possession. When Dennis Schröder’s desperation 25-foot heave missed, Ball snared it to post his fourth career triple-double and third of the season, which ties him with Anthony Mason for the second-most in a season in franchise history.

Credit Bridges for Ball’s stat-stuffing awareness.

“Aw yeah for sure, gang had me,” Ball said, referring to his alley-oop partner. “He was like, ‘Box out. You take that last rebound.’ I looked up and said, ‘Oh, s**** you ain’t lying.’ I went to go get the rebound and gang was happy for me.”

Just a day in the life of these newfangled Hornets.

“To beat a team like Boston, you feel good,” Rozier said. “This is a winning program, a team that’s got a lot of great players and plays hard to the end. So to come in here and get a win … I said earlier (today) we want to make a statement because we are trying to get to where they are at as an organization. So it just felt good to win.”

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