Charlotte Hornets: Jeremy Lin Sparks Improbable Comeback Over Spurs

Mar 21, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin (7) warms up before the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 21, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin (7) warms up before the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports /

Jeremy Lin helped lead the Charlotte Hornets to an amazing comeback win against the San Antonio Spurs.

Saturday night was one of the worst nights of the Charlotte Hornets season. No, the loss didn’t send them tumbling down the standings. It wasn’t like they dropped a must-win game. It was a bad loss, but it was just a loss. It just felt like progress being stalled.

It was more symbolic than anything. Getting dominated by the lowly Denver Nuggets on your home court after winning eight of your last nine games is not a way to cement yourself as a contender. The game was a reminder that even though the Hornets have come a long way, they still have work to do if they are going to be regarded as a true contender.

Monday night was the exact opposite of that. On Monday they made a statement, though it was a difficult process. The San Antonio Spurs dominated the first quarter, smacking Charlotte by a 28-7 score. The Hornets shot 14 percent in the first quarter. Fourteen percent! That doesn’t even seem possible.

At one point in the first half, they trailed by 23 points. By halftime, things had gotten a little better. Charlotte only faced a 16-point deficit. Baby steps. Somehow when the dust settled at the end of the night the Hornets would come away with a 91-88 over the Spurs. How did it happen?

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Kemba Walker has been Charlotte’s best player all season, but on Monday he struggled. He couldn’t get his shot to fall and his aggressiveness played right into San Antonio’s hands. He finished the game with only six points on 2-for-11 shooting with three turnovers. It seems that late-season fatigue is starting to take its toll on Walker.

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Fortunately his teammates in the backcourt picked him up.

Jeremy Lin had his best game since his domination of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 3. Lin looked like Linsanity-era Lin. He relentlessly attacked the Spurs off the dribble and scored 29 points on 11-for-18 shooting. He also collected seven rebounds and had a pair of assists. His accuracy from the three-point arc was the biggest surprise.

He shot 4-for-4 from outside, confidently stepping into each jumper. He kept the Hornets afloat with a big second quarter and won them the game by continuing that in the second half. Fifteen of his 29 points came in the fourth quarter. He also spent a large chunk of the game guarding Danny Green, who shot 0-for-7 in 22 minutes.

For Steve Clifford, Lin is the Porsche you only take out of the garage when you need to outrun Jason Statham’s character from the Fast and Furious franchise. He doesn’t always need to break it out, but boy it’s nice to have it when you need it most.

Lin has struggled with his shot at times this season; in his last 10 games heading into Monday he averaged only 9.4 points per game on 36 percent shooting, but the supernova potential is always lurking beneath the surface. He’s had stellar performances to help Charlotte knock off both the Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs.

This was also his second consecutive game shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and making all of his three-point attempts. Perhaps the shooting slump is over. If he closes the season by consistently playing well there’s no telling how good the Hornets could be.

Nicolas Batum also played well, ending his evening with 15 points, six rebounds, and three assists on 5-for-9 shooting. He had five turnovers in the first half, but calmed down in the second half by playing a bit more conservatively.

Trade deadline prize Courtney Lee played perhaps his best game as a Hornet. His plus/minus rating was a team best plus-12 and his 17 points on 8-for-13 shooting was second only to Lin’s 29. Charlotte shot only 40.2 percent from the field, but they did shoot 42.1 percent from deep.

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Lin, Lee and Batum were the only Hornets in double figures, carrying the team’s offense. Charlotte outscored San Antonio 29-23 in the second quarter, 31-21 in the third quarter, and 24-16 in the fourth quarter to turn what would have been a demoralizing loss into an uplifting victory.

The Hornets turned up their defense as the game progressed and the Spurs seemed to lose interest as they chipped away at the large lead. A post-Golden State hangover, maybe? Charlotte will take it.

Being able to win games when Kemba Walker isn’t at his best is something that’s been rare for Charlotte this season. It was impressive to see them overcome Kemba’s struggle and 23-point lead all in one night. Doing it against the second best team in the NBA is even more impressive.

The win brings their record to 40-30 and helps them keep pace in the tight race for home court advantage in the Eastern Conference. A Charlotte Hornets team with Walker, Batum and Lin clicking on all cylinders at the same time is a team that can steal away the third seed in the Eastern Conference from the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, or Boston Celtics.

When this team plays to their full potential, it is fun to watch and can play with any team in the NBA. Consistency is key. Consistently playing at your best is what separates good teams from mediocre teams and great teams from good teams.

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What do the Hornets want to be? Good, great, or neither?