That’ll leave a scar: In season’s biggest game, Charlotte Hornets never showed up

·4 min read

The final game of the Charlotte Hornets’ season Tuesday night was an absolute embarrassment — a heads-may-roll, nationally televised, cover-the-children’s-eyes debacle.

Indiana’s 144-117 win over Charlotte in the NBA play-in tournament was far worse even than the 27-point final margin. The Hornets played themselves right out of the NBA play-in tournament in the sort of humiliating performance that resembled the way they played for much of the 7-59 season of 2011-12.

Charlotte owner Michael Jordan has to be fuming after this quasi-playoff game, and he should be. It looked like the Hornets players didn’t want to be there and were intent on proving it by forgetting to read the Indiana scouting report.

It looked like Hornets coach James Borrego and his staff had absolutely no idea how to put the Hornets in position to win what was their first postseason game in five years. And It looked like Charlotte was ready and willing to concede a dunk or an uncontested three-point shot on every Indiana possession.

On TNT, Charles Barkley picked the Hornets to win the game just before tip-off. By halftime, Sir Charles was chuckling at his own idiocy.

After the game, Charlotte forward Miles Bridges said of Indiana: “They bullied us. There’s nothing else to say. Everyone watched the game. ... They played like they wanted to be in the playoffs and we didn’t. ... They whipped our a--.”

The game also reminded me of the Carolina Panthers’ playoff loss to Arizona in the 2008 postseason — the one where Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme committed a mind-blowing six turnovers. Big game. Big stakes. Big flop. Arizona was 20 points ahead at halftime, and everyone knew it was over. This game was over by halftime, too, as Indiana led the Hornets by 24 at the break and by as many as 39 in the second half.

The mere fact that the Hornets lost?

That wasn’t unexpected. Indiana was favored, albeit by a modest two points. Charlotte staggered into the game having gone 0-5 over its final five contests.

Several of those Charlotte games, though, were extremely close, including the last two. This one was a fiasco.

Yes, you can say Charlotte didn’t have the injured Gordon Hayward, but the Pacers lost one of their best players in Caris LeVert just before the game due to health and safety protocols. They had far less time to adjust to that and, arguably, suffered through more overall injuries as a team this year than Charlotte did.

For the Hornets, LaMelo Ball looked like a lost 19-year-old teenager, with a startling plus-minus number of minus-35. Terry Rozier, who had to be great for Charlotte to have any chance, went 0 for 9 from three-point range. P.J. Washington and Devonte Graham, playing in a game where they most needed to come up big, came up small.

“There were very few high moments throughout this game,” Borrego said. “We just could not find our footing on either end of the floor. ... They punched us in the mouth early and kept going.”

Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis,right, goes to the basket against Charlotte’s Miles Bridges (0) Tuesday in an NBA play-in tournament game in Indianapolis. Sabonis had 14 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists in the Pacers’ win.
Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis,right, goes to the basket against Charlotte’s Miles Bridges (0) Tuesday in an NBA play-in tournament game in Indianapolis. Sabonis had 14 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists in the Pacers’ win.

“In a 30-point loss, there’s nothing that goes right,” said Cody Zeller, whose 7-for-7 shooting was a rare bright spot for Charlotte. “And nothing went right.”

This was one of the few Hornets games just about everyone could see on TV, due to the national telecast, although that blessing turned out to be a curse. TNT’s announcers were deservedly ruthless about the Hornets, ripping the team for the better part of two hours.

“A nightmare night,” said Spero Dedes, who did the play-by play. And: “As disheartening a performance for the Charlotte Hornets as anyone could have imagined.”

At halftime, Kenny Smith diagnosed how the Pacers kept getting the ball inside while the Hornets tiptoed around outside of the paint like it was made of lava. TNT analyst Greg Anthony said the Hornets “didn’t seem to have the energy, or really the understanding, of what you needed to bring from an intensity standpoint to this game. I know James Borrego has got to be disappointed with the effort.”

I know Jordan has to be disappointed with all of it.

The Hornets would have been the Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed if the season had ended at the two-thirds mark. Instead, they plummeted all the way to No. 10 and then got waxed by an Indiana team they had gone 2-1 against in the regular season.

Indiana’s Oshae Brissett dunks during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball Eastern Conference play-in game against the Charlotte Hornets, Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Indianapolis. Indiana won, 144-117.
Indiana’s Oshae Brissett dunks during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball Eastern Conference play-in game against the Charlotte Hornets, Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Indianapolis. Indiana won, 144-117.

The Hornets on Tuesday night looked like a team that had one hand on the door right from tip-off, ready to go on a vacation that couldn’t come soon enough.

Does that erase all the good work the Hornets did this season? It does not.

Despite a shaky final 10 days of the season, Ball is a player who you can build around. Rozier, Miles Bridges and Jalen McDaniels took significant steps forward.

And the Hornets are back in the NBA lottery, just like usual, so maybe they will get lucky again. Next season shows promise, if they can get the offseason right.

But Tuesday night?

That’s going to leave a scar. A big one.

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