Steve Clifford punched the air hard enough to make Mike Tyson jealous.
The Charlotte Hornets were in the midst of a furious fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets and needed to dig deep for just one play at that particular moment, leading to their coach angrily throwing a fist at no one in particular. He was ticked.
“We’ve got to get ‘em,” Clifford said. “Listen, tonight we were minus-11 on the glass. This is not a recipe of how you are going to win an NBA game. That’s my only point and it’s important as you go through. The No. 1 thing is, do you win or lose, OK?”
For once, it was the former and not the latter. The Hornets made the requisite number of plays down the stretch to secure a 129-128 victory over Brooklyn at Barclays Center on Thursday night.
“It feels good,” said Terry Rozier, who posted 37 points and a career-best 13 assists. “Everyone stepped up tremendously. You had Nick Smith Jr. off the bench, who hit a couple of shots and was chasing Cam Thomas around and was making effort plays. You had Bryce (McGowens) who started. Everybody chipped in and did a great job.
“Coach was preaching this morning, no matter who we play it’s how we play. And we just lived by that.”
Since these are the Hornets after all, they still weren’t anywhere close to full strength.
Brandon Miller is the latest key player to be added to the lengthy list after sitting out with a sprained left ankle. He tweaked it at the tail end of the first half of Tuesday’s in-season tournament loss to the New York Knicks, but still played in the second half before getting pulled late with the outcome well in hand.
Against the Nets, though, the rookie was a no-go.
“Hopefully, it won’t be long,” coach Steve Clifford said. “I think he’s more day-to-day right now. He’s a tough guy. He wants to play, so hopefully it will just be tonight. I don’t think it will be long.”
Miller got in a quick pregame session on the Barclays Center court, but minutes after it concluded and he walked off with Bryce McGowens, he was ruled out.
“Yeah, he couldn’t play,” Clifford said. “... He’s not able to do it. So, if there was any way he could play, he would play.”
Miller’s absence meant the Hornets were without four players who are expected to play significant roles this season. LaMelo Ball, Cody Martin, Nick Richards and Frank Ntilikina are also nursing various ailments, which left Charlotte extremely short-handed against the Nets. For once, that didn’t matter.
“Listen, it’s been a tough trip,” Clifford said. “Melo goes down early in the second quarter in Orlando. We obviously got on the plane (last Saturday) with a lot of momentum, finally having everybody back. As many injuries as we had last year, this was the first time in Orlando, like I said, that I could sense it in the huddle, ‘What’s next for us?’
“It’s always going to be a way to play in this league. You have to find a way that your team has to play to win. That’s it. Every team’s got a way to play or most teams, and then you’ve got to get to that, and then you’ve got to do it every night no matter where you play. If you don’t get to that and it doesn’t make sense in the league, you are never going to win consistently. And so to have the right attitude, approach, fight, determination, togetherness, that’s where it all starts.”
Here’s what else the Hornets had to say about how they ended their road trip:
On Terry Rozier’s outing
“This is another day,” Rozier said. “My teammates and my coaches allow me to be who I am and sometimes I make shots, sometimes I’m not. … You want to read the game and see how it goes. My trust is in all my teammates just like they trust me. So, that’s what that was.”
“He also had 13 assists,” Clifford said, “and his defense, when he wasn’t in the game our defense really struggled handling their guards also.”
On Bryce McGowens
“Bryce is just putting a lot of work in and it’s showing,” Rozier said. “That’s all it is. We are all happy for him and hopefully he can keep it going. He put the work in, so it’s no surprise with that either.”
“It felt good to get the win first and foremost,” McGowens said. “I felt like we competed well, played hard, played together. It was fun, especially getting the start, my second start of my career and getting a dub. That was huge, playing well and getting a win.
“It was huge boost of confidence, but at the same time I’m playing every day. So, just continue to stay on top of my game and just continue to watch film and get better.”
On the Hornets’ offense, which racked up 106 points
“Well, we made 21 threes,” Clifford said. “The ball was going in the basket regularly for both teams. You could say a lot of things. They made 14 and we made 21. So that was a big part of it.”
Rozier said: “We got lucky and made some shots. We gonna run with that.”
On Nick Smith Jr. taking advantage of important minutes
“That’s the league,” Rozier said. “I talk to him all the time and just let him know to be ready. This is a long season and you are going to get the opportunity at some point. Whether it’s injuries and he does a great job every day at just staying prepared. So, it’s no surprise how he went out there and played today.”
Smith said: “It means a lot, just coming in and just contributing to the team, especially for coach to believe in me and put me in as a young rookie and just to contribute to a win and making shots. I’m trying to stay as ready as possible and it feels good.
“I was doing whatever I can to just to try to get the win.”