Hornets overpowered by Clippers: Takeaways from Charlotte’s narrow loss to LA

Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez/mrodriguez@charlotteobserver.com

It was there for the taking, dangling in front of them like a sweet treat ready to be gobbled up.

And that’s what made the whole ordeal difficult for Steve Clifford to stomach.

With the Hornets still shorthanded thanks to all their injuries and LA Clippers at full strength for the first time in weeks, the bulk of the 13,945 in attendance at Spectrum Center on Monday night probably didn’t think they would be on their collective feet with mere seconds remaining. But there they were and the Hornets had them thinking this may be their night — until things unraveled in the waning seconds in part because they couldn’t corral a loose ball.

“Biggest possession of the game,” the Charlotte Hornets coach said, “we got two hands on it and they take it away. That’s the game.”

A stinging 119-117 loss to the LA Clippers could have been averted had the Hornets swiped a rebound with just under 40 seconds remaining. Instead, the Hornets allowed Kawhi Leonard’s offensive putback to tie the game, and Leonard ripped their hearts out by sinking an 18-footer with 1.4 seconds left to hand the Hornets their third loss in four games.

“It’s just one rebound that decided the game,” Kelly Oubre said. “It’s been the same story a couple of nights. Just one rebound. We get this one rebound and we secure possession of the ball and the game is in our hands, instead of giving this team — a great team — a second opportunity to put in a miss that was a good look.”

Physicality is lacking for the Hornets (7-17) and an obvious obstacle they have to overcome.

“You’ve got to hit somebody,” Clifford said. “It’s our biggest problem. The nights where we’re physical, we’re fine. The nights where we’re not physical, it doesn’t work. We’ve got to hit people. That’s it. That’s it.”

Here are some key takeaways from the Hornets’ latest defeat:

Can’t close out

Ever notice how the Hornets often have trouble closing out possessions? It’s one of their main issues and it usually has a direct result on their overall rebounding numbers.

Although the final numbers don’t tell the full story, those rebounding woes were prevalent once again and the Clippers took advantage of their height disparity inside with Ivica Zubac and Terrance Mann. The Clippers also had a clutch offensive rebound on the game-tying possession in the closing moments.

Digging deeper into their woes cleaning the glass, the Hornets are cheating too much trying to get cheap fast break buckets rather than focusing on the most important task: collecting the ball after it caroms off the rim.

“It’s something that we’ve been talking about every day,” Terry Rozier said. “It’s obviously killed us the last two years. We’ve just got to make sure we key in. It’s all effort, I think we’ve all been leaking out a little bit too much, so we’ve just got to make sure we stay in and make tough effort plays.”

Clifford chuckled when asked how much he’s drilled that into the players’ heads.

“I’ve mentioned it once or twice,” he said. “That’s a big part of the NBA now. Can you offensive rebound and get back? Last year we were 28th in defensive rebounding, now we’re 23rd. It’s crushing us. It’s not small. And like I told them this morning, I could have made an edit yesterday morning when I was in here of every guy on the team leaking out. We do it on every shot and it’s crushing us. It’s not like some small thing.

“It’s not like you’re out here and this is the way we practice. This isn’t college. You can’t be doing blockout drills to me or anything like that and nor do you have to. What it does show (is) we don’t have the buy-in necessary and we don’t have natural defensive rebounders, so there has to be a change. Like real change.”

Not enough in reserve

Keeping pace with the Clippers’ bench was a difficult proposition for the Hornets.

In getting doubled up by Los Angeles’ bench 50-24, the inability to match their opponent’s reserves haunted the Hornets. It stems from all their injuries and what Clifford has to work with.

“If you have a great team, sometimes you can play with only one starter in the game,” Clifford said. “With the roster we have here presently right now, we need to have at least two starters in the game. And it’s hard to do that without playing those guys huge minutes.”