The Charlotte Hornets made their re-introduction to the NBA in dramatic fashion on Wednesday night at Time Warner Cable Arena, clawing all the way back from a 24-point deficit to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 108-106 in overtime.
After being outplayed in every statistical category for more than three quarters and being taken out of their gameplan to get center Al Jefferson the ball on the low block, it looked as if the Hornets were going to be run out of their newly remodeled building on opening night.
Led by the sharp-shooting of O.J. Mayo, the Bucks shot an impressive 54% from three-point range but as things got tighter down the stretch Milwaukee began to flinch and Hornets point guard Kemba Walker decided to remind everyone why he just got a four-year $48 million contract extension on Tuesday.
Walker struggled in the early going hitting just 2 of 8 shots in the first quarter and was just 9 of 26 for the game, but his lack of a short-term memory, paired with his ability to take and make big shots catapulted his team into overtime tied at 100 and then gave them a lead in the extra period that they would never relinquish.
With just a few seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Walker dribbled the length of the court and drained a three-pointer that pulled the Hornets even with the visiting Bucks and in overtime, as time was running out he used a step-back jumper from 20 feet that sent Milwaukee’s driver to warm up the bus for the long ride home.
“I was so high on adrenaline that I couldn’t calm down,” Walker said of his slow start. “I was so anxious to be out there and the crowd was so into it. I was trying my best but it just wasn’t working out for me. Those last couple of shots I finally really did relax.”
The adrenaline must have kept his mind off the cramps that he was battling though in his right foot during the game. “He’s courageous,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “I asked him if he was good and he said, `I’ll make one more play.’ And he did.”
Walker’s late game heroics were made possible by the sharp-shooting of his teammates in the frontcourt, led by Marvin Williams (19 pts) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (17 pts) who brought the Hornets within striking distance by slashing to the basket and making timely jump shots late in the ball game.
Jefferson who could not find a groove in the post still managed to log his traditional double-double, with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Charlotte also got a big boost off the bench from second-year big man Cody Zeller, who contributed 11 points in 19 minutes of play.
Newly acquired free agent guard Lance Stephenson did not have the shooting night he would have liked (seven pts on 3 of 12 fg) but he did lead the team with 13 rebounds and eight assists. The 24 point come-back victory is the largest in franchise history for the Hornets who now prepare to host the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.