The Charlotte Hornets flexed their defensive muscles as they overpowered the New York Knicks 109-88, to secure their fourth win in a row to move to 6-5 on the season.
Their last four-game win streak came in the 2018-19 season.
Defence setting the tone
While the LaMelo Ball dimes and Miles Bridges dunks take the headlines, the Hornets are getting it done on the defensive end, with head coach James Borrego preaching energy and effort on that side of the floor this season.
"I just love our pride, our physicality, the communication and just the buy-in defensively more than anything," Borrego said post-game.
"To hold a team to thirty-eight points in a half in the NBA, it doesn't matter who you play - that's tough to do. Our guys were locked in every possession. We weren't perfect, but our defense is what is sustaining us right now and it's giving us a shot to win every single night."
For the second time in four games they've held their opponents to under 100 points with today's 88 points by the Knicks being a season-low. The Hornets currently rank seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency and third in steals at 9.4 per game.
Charlotte held the Knicks to just 39.1 percent shooting from the field (34-87 FG) and 24 percent from beyond the arc (9-of-37), as they closed out hard on the perimeter and hounded the Knicks ball handlers, forcing 17 turnovers which they turned into 24 points.
Hayward finds All-Star form
After signing a four-year $120 million deal in the off-season, many questioned the Hornets' decision to hand Gordon Hayward a max deal, but through the first few weeks of the season, the 30-year-old is more than playing up to his contract, with both his production on court and his leadership.
Hayward poured in 34 points on an efficient 11-of-17 from the field, but it was his aggressiveness getting to the rim that paid dividends as he went 10-for-10 at the charity stripe, all coming in the opening 24 minutes.
He started the game with a bang, scoring 28 of his points in the first half on 8-of-12 from the field, 2-of-2 from the 3-point line - a career-high for most points in a half and tied for the second-highest scoring first-half scoring by a Hornets player since 1997.
.@gordonhayward GOES 🆙‼️#AllFly pic.twitter.com/Qapm8oe3ey- Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) January 12, 2021
"I was happy with our performance, especially defensively. We executed and really gave them trouble. It was a great gameplan by our coaching staff," Hayward said post-game.
"It was a great win and we're just going to try and use this momentum here to keep it going. When the ball is moving and you're getting open shots and easy buckets, it's just fun. Everyone's involved. It's hard to guard and I think we're starting to figure each other out a little bit."
Sharing is caring
The Hornets have become a League Pass favourite with their free-flowing style of play and they continued their superb passing against the Knicks, tallying 28 assists on 38 made field goals, including 14 on 19 made field goals in the first half - none better than this full-court touchdown from LaMelo Ball to Hayward in the first quarter.
What a full court DIME from @MELOD1P to @gordonhayward!#AllFly | @HornetsOnFSSE pic.twitter.com/dGhQBeRDGU- Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) January 12, 2021
Through 11 games, Charlotte leads the NBA in assists at 28.9 per game, with Ball leading all rookies with 6.0 assists per game, good for 19th in the league, while Devonte' Graham ranks 15th with 6.5 dimes a night.
"I like our ball movement, the guys are sharing the ball, we're finding the open shot more times than not which I like. So that's who we are, we move the ball, we share the ball," Borrego added.
"The assists will continue, that's how we have to play to win in this league."
Ball finished with eight points, seven assists, three steals and a career-high 14 rebounds, while Graham added 19 points, seven assists and three steals in the win, with the backcourt duo accounting for half of the team's assists against the Knicks.
"This is the best ball movement we've had yet," Borrego said.
"It started last year. If we go back last year, this identity, this culture was started a year ago, those seeds were planted a year ago and we're seeing the fruits of that now and I give our guys credit, they have bought into this style, this system, this playmaking.
"We're not where we need to be but this is what's giving us a shot every single night, the ball movement, the defence and the pride that we're taking on both ends of the floor. I'm really proud of our group."
The Hornets will close out their three-game homestand on Wednesday when they take on the Dallas Mavericks as they look to extend their win streak to five games.
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