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Blogcat's Take, 1/23

I don’t care that last night’s Hornets-Magic game resembled two blind drunks who got into a brawl over the last urinal without realizing there were several open stalls, Charlotte’s comeback overtime win will go down as one of their best, all-time, most unlikely wins. It will certainly be one of my favorites. It’s the kind of a win that I as a fan want to spread on the floor and roll around in. I feel this way not only because the Hornets were injured, were on the road, were down by as many as 19 late in the 3rd quarter, were down by 15 with just 7 minutes to go in the game, managed to blow a 3-point lead with 12 seconds to go, and then also managed to blow a 4-point lead with 1:26 to go in overtime… well, I guess I feel this way because of all of those elements, but also because of the sheer preponderance of hopelessness that had stacked up practically right until they finally sealed the deal in OT, and also because of my own emotional 180-degree turn.

As a west coaster who usually doesn’t watch these things (by which I mean Hornets games) until after they’ve started, so that I can fast-forward commercials, as well as pause every now and then to take a moment and softly sob, by the start of the fourth quarter I was merely seconds away from FF-ing what appeared to be a rapidly-advancing decline into garbage time. At this point I wasn’t angry (or, any more angry than usual) so much as I was bitterly resigned.

Lest I remind you, the Magic have a history of going through the Hornets like cheap toilet paper, and this game appeared to be just another square in a long strip of Quilted Northern. Orlando had already guzzled mead from the eye sockets of our crushed skulls earlier this year in a savage 113-98 ravaging in December, and now we were down 4 of our top 5 players. Our futility against Orlando goes back even longer, though. Remember the end of the 2013-14 season, our last taste of playoff glory? Game 73: we’re in a desperate struggle with the Nets and the Wizards to avoid the 7th seed so that we can in turn avoid the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. Every game is critical. We roll into Orlando to take on the 21-52 Magic, who are playing out the proverbial string. We take a 30-16 first quarter lead and proceed to slowly decay the rest of the way and eventually lose in overtime. We finish the year 1 game—that game—behind both the Nets and Wizards, end up as the 7th seed, and get swept by the Heat in the first round. In case you haven’t noticed, I still think about that game.

So anyway, I was not surprised that the Hornets had fallen behind rat-faced Evan Fournier. I was not surprised that once again we had made the thoroughly average and lumbering Victor Oladipo look like John Wall. I was not surprised that the 36% 3-pt shooting, broccoli-headed Elfrid Payton had sunk 2 of 3 treys. After all, we had to rely extensively on both Tyler Hansbrough and Brian Roberts in this game, two of the worst plus/minus players you’ll find—and that’s by themselves; playing them both together, as we had to for 11 minutes last night, is like putting turbo chargers on both of their suck capacitors. With no Nic Batum or Cody Zeller (nothing fills one with confidence like the sight of Spencer Hawes as the starting center), and of course no Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Hornets were a team more ripe for the picking than a dried out nostril, so I was neither surprised nor angry at the burgeoning blowout.

Actually, I was angry with one guy, Jeremy Lamb, who shat himself even browner than usual last night. Considering how much we needed him to step up as a swingman in the absence of Nic Batum, Lamb basically did the basketball equivalent of sending a dick-pic to his mother-in-law. He played barely four minutes and committed 3 fouls, including this profoundly stupid, lazy, pointless shove of Evan Fournier, right in front of the ref:

I could give Lamb the benefit of the doubt that perhaps his oft-injured toe was still bothering him, but either way, his crap-tacular performance was a total disaster at the worst possible time.

But maybe Lamb was also the MVP, because after Coach Clifford banged the gong loudly on his bombing four-minute sketch comedy, it cleared the way for Mitch Mel Jeff Jack Troy Daniels! Besides having a first name I can never remember, Daniels is mostly on my radar for his wordless, narcissistic, possibly-paid-for fashion selfies on Twitter, such as this one:

At least for one night, though, Daniels formed the tip of the Hornets’ comeback spear. He played 32 minutes, including the entire 4th quarter and overtime. And while he actually didn’t score a whole lot during that stretch, and in fact went just 2-for-5 from the field with a frustrating Biyomban spilled-rebound-out-of-bounds, it was Troy-not-Mel who delivered the dagger to Spencer Hawes—Spencer Hawes!—for that Hawes-ome corner-3 that gave the Hornets the lead for good in overtime.

But I skipped over the emotional nadir that happened before. As Gloria Estefan once predicted, the rhythm is going to get you. In this case, that rhythm was an unbelievable pattern of Orlando miss/turnover-into-Hornet-transition-bucket that erased the aforementioned 15-point lead. The Magic committed 7 turnovers of every conceivable variety (the pass into the stands, the offensive foul, the extremely rarely called offensive 3-second violation, etc.) during that final 7 minute stretch, and then missed with long rebounds on just about everything else. I don’t know what was more surreal: how the ball kept coming to the Hornets in amazingly advantageous offensive positions or the fact that it was Roberts of all people who scored 9 of the points in that 21-6 run to close out regulation (turning his very standard, practically vintage minus-3 into an eventual plus-16). Regardless, against all of the Phil Collins odds in the world, the crippled Hornets were on the cusp of winning it going away, holding a 3-point lead with just 12 seconds to play. And then Magic inbounded it to Orlando’s other 36% 3-point shooter, Oladipo. With visions of two blown 3-point leads against the Pelicans on Monday still dancing in their heads, the Hornets played this perfectly. Kemba Walker was on Oladipo like a booger to a handkerchief, and still Oladipo managed to bank a downright silly 3-pointer to send it to OT. It would have and should have been the cruelest loss the Hornets could possibly have been dealt, especially with their injuries, and especially with a night of travel through a storm looming for a back-to-back against the Knicks. I’ll be honest, at that moment, having allowed myself to get sucked into that hope vortex, I sank into total despair, with only the following thoughts racing through my head:

But of course it didn’t end there. Oladipo’s 3-point prayer was merely a brief detour in what was a 32-13 Hornets run over the final 12:16 of fourth quarter and overtime. It disproved once again that there’s such a thing as momentum. It saved me from wanting to crawl into a hole and hibernate until the draft (at least temporarily). It probably set me up for more agony against the Knicks tonight (by the way, how is this game happening despite cancelations all over the eastern seaboard? God, we could use the break to heal and rest). But most of all, it preserved a win that I will un-ironically treasure for the rest of my fandom.

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