Hornets battle through COVID, Timberwolves to earn a hard-fought victory

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Jacob Rude
·6 min read
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The Hornets expected days like Friday to happen in a post-COVID world. But that didn’t make it any less challenging.

Morning shootaround turned into morning COVID testing which then turned into orders to remain at home by the afternoon. When the Hornets took the court on Friday for their game against the Timberwolves, there were only eight minutes on the clock before tip-off.

Resiliency, though, has been one of the words of the season for head coach James Borrego and his team and it was never more on display than against Minnesota. Buoyed by 41 points from Terry Rozier, 16 of those coming in the fourth, Charlotte outlasted the Timberwolves 120-114 for one of the toughest wins of the season.

“We just found a way,” Borrego said. “That’s the bottom line. We had every excuse in the world not to win this game but our guys stuck with it and figured out a way to get it done. In the NBA, everyone’s going to look different but the bottom line is you have to figure out how to get a win and we did that tonight. Our guys, give them credit. Obviously, Terry Rozier was fantastic. He carried us down the stretch.

“We could have easily folded tonight and given in,” he added. “We did not do that. We stayed resilient and we found a way to get a win.”

Before the challenges of even winning an NBA game came about, the Hornets had many, many others arise during the day. Morning shootaround devolved into rapid testing, an omen for the day ahead.

By afternoon, the players had been ordered to stay in their homes. As the team announced Cody and Caleb Martin would be out due to Health and Safety Protocols around 4 p.m., the rest of the team was instructed to drive to the arena and wait in their cars.

The players stayed in their cars, following another test, for an hour-and-a-half, a timespan in which P.J. Washington was also ruled out, leaving the Hornets with nine active players. When Borrego met with the media an hour before the game, he had not yet met with his team or staff during the day.

The condensed pregame schedule meant when the Hornets took the court, only eight minutes showed on the clock and only half the team was ready. In fact, it was Borrego himself that rebounded for his players during the final minutes before the game.

“We knew coming into the season there was going to be a couple of nights like this where you don’t know who’s gonna be available to play, your routine is thrown off,” Cody Zeller said. “But, I think every team is going to deal with it at some point during the season. You know, kind of waiting to the last minute (to see) who’s available to play, who’s gonna be out. So this is one of our nights and I thought we handled it pretty well.”

The disjointed effort the Hornets put forth throughout much of the first half once the buzzer finally sounded could be forgiven. Twenty turnovers, ten in each half, were the clearest example of a team that was out of rhythm and routine.

But as the Hornets settled in, it was Rozier that stood out. The veteran guard scored 26 of his points in the second half and 16 in the fourth as the Hornets continued their late-game excellence and execution to pull out the win.

“Everything was different tonight,” Rozier said. “There’s all these protocols and just trying to figure it out. Obviously safety first, but everything was pushed back today. We met with 20 minutes to go on the clock. We probably got out there with eight minutes to warm up, so everything was a little different.

“But there’s no excuses. Like I said after the game, we’re blessed to play this game. Once we lace them out, we have to go out there and get it.”

Rozier was brilliant down the stretch for Charlotte. He and Karl-Anthony Towns traded 3-pointers in the final two minutes with the former answering the latter’s long-range efforts to keep the Hornets’ lead at four points with 1:26 to go.

After a string of empty possessions from both sides, Rozier sandwiched consecutive perfect trips to the line around Bridges making a pair of freebies. On the night as a whole, the Hornets finished 18-of-18 at the charity stripe, nine of those coming from Rozier.

“We don’t get this one done without Terry,” Borrego said. “He was fantastic. And it really was the first half, too. He had a look about him and I should have probably gotten him some more looks in the first half. I probably left a few on the table for him in the first half. But he stuck with it and we found him and we called his number, the guys called his number and he delivered tonight.

“Terry deserves a ton of credit for this victory,” he continued. “He was great down the stretch. But overall, he kept us going. When we went dry, he kept us going. He was talking in huddles so even off the floor, he’s showing his leadership and his will to win games.

“I play with a lot of emotions,” Rozier added. “I came up different than a lot of people, I like to be challenged. So through all of that, my teammates and my coaches still allow me to be special and it still allow me to be me and, obviously, if I’m hot, they’re going to find me and all the credit goes to them.”

In the end, Friday’s victory will go down as another in the win column, moving the Hornets back within a game of .500 once more this year. But it was an experience they hope to only have to go through once.

“No, absolutely not,” Borrego said postgame with a wry smile on if he has a new pregame routine. “Absolutely not. I don’t want that pregame routine. You can have it. I’ll take the other stuff. Never been a part of something like that. Ever.

“But…I think this is great learning, growth day for us that we’ve been able to stand up, be resilient throughout this day and get better and figure out a way to get a win. This is not easy. Any win in the league is tough and under these circumstances, our guys deserve a lot of credit. Hopefully, this helps us grow and it strengthens our program even more. But I want nothing to do with a day like that.”

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OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
Charlotte
+195+5.5O 234.5
Golden State
-239-5.5U 234.5