"He's a winner. He makes winning plays."
Charlotte Hornets head coach James Borrego summed it up following LaMelo Ball's fourth-quarter showing as he led the Charlotte Hornets to a 124-121 road win over the Phoenix Suns.
Ball, the Rookie of the Year frontrunner looked more a seasoned veteran than a freshman as he powered the Hornets' second-half comeback after they trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half.
The 19-year-old finished with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, a team-high eight assists, four rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes - his sixth 20-point game since being inserted into the starting lineup - but it was his late-game execution that had everyone talking.
Never fazed, never hurried, Ball's poise and execution belie his age and whenever the Suns looked to make a push, he answered the call every time.
After trailing for most of the first half, the Hornets led 97-91 at the end of the third quarter, pushing ahead by 11 midway through the period, before the Suns scored 11 straight to tie things up at 110-110 off a Devin Booker dunk.
On the ensuing play, Ball inbounded the ball to Gordon Hayward, pushing the ball up the floor to find Miles Bridges for an alley-oop finish all in the space of five seconds.
Then, with 2:30 to go and the Hornets in front by five, Ball sized up the Suns defence, getting the switch on big man Deandre Ayton, before leaving him on an island as he blew past him with a series of crossovers, finishing with a two-handed dunk.
LaMelo's handles 🤧 pic.twitter.com/6IOBREEpjL- NBA TV (@NBATV) February 25, 2021
He followed it up with this isolation drive, blowing past Jae Crowder, finishing high off the glass to extend their lead two six with just under two minutes remaining.
LaMelo past Crowder for the layup 🔥 pic.twitter.com/DIPrE8amdK- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 25, 2021
Following that Booker dunk, the Hornets reeled off a 12-5 run to take a seven-point lead with 34 seconds to go, with Ball having a hand in everything. He showed composure beyond his years and next-level confidence, treating a close road game against one of the league's best teams like an open gym pickup run.
He went 6-of-9 from the field in the second half, scoring 16 points after the break, to make it nine 20-point games on the season, the most among all rookies.
The Hornets had six players score in double figures led by Malik Monk's 29 points, including 20 in the second quarter alone, while Gordon Hayward added 20 points and eight rebounds. PJ Washington, Terry Rozier and Cody Zeller scored 10 points apiece as the Hornets improve to 15-16 on the season in a tie with the Chicago Bulls for the East's sixth seed.
"Obviously, it was a resilient win," coach Borrego said post-game as the Hornets remain undefeated when leading after three quarters.
"I'm really proud of our group overall. It didn't look pretty early, but we've been a resilient group all year. We keep fighting. This has been a microcosm of our season. We look like we're down, defeated, out and we keep finding a way to fight back and compete. This [Hornets] team competes as hard as any team in the league and tonight's a great example against a fantastic Phoenix Suns team."
Devin Booker led the Suns with a game-high 33 points, while Chris Paul added 20 points and 10 assists and Deandre Ayton 16 points and 10 rebounds as they lost for just the third time in 15 games.
They remain fourth in the Western Conference with a 20-11 record and are back in action on Friday (ET) against the Chicago Bulls, while the Hornets continue their West Coast road trip on Friday against the Golden State Warriors.
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