Malik Monk’s game-winner caps off stunning comeback for Hornets vs. Kings

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Buried not-so-deep in the lore of the Hornets is a memorable night dubbed The Miracle After Midnight from 2016 where an undermanned Charlotte team pulled off an improbable double-overtime win in Sacramento on the back of a huge performance off the bench from Troy Daniels.

Sunday was the rare example of the sequel being better than the original.

Without three starters and trailing by eight points with 53 seconds left, even a Hornets team as resilient as any looked dead in the water. Instead, The Miracle After Midnight II saw Malik Monk cap off his own 21-point performance off the bench and a Hornets comeback with an and-one layup with 1.4 seconds left to earn a 127-126 win.

“It goes back to that term of resiliency, never dropping the sword, never giving in,” head coach James Borrego said. “We fight to the final second and we literally do that. This is that type of group. This is the character we have. We found a way.

“We got a little bit of help tonight. They helped us out. You have to get a little bit fortunate at times. They had to miss some free throws to help us out but we found a way. One way or another, down three starters, on the road, we found a way to win and just proud of our group.”

P.J. Washington’s career-high 42 points made the frenetic final minute possible and he had a hand in the late rally. Trailing by eight points without the ball, LaMelo Ball blocked Marvin Bagley and Monk found Terry Rozier for his first and only 3-pointer of the night.

After Bagley missed a pair of free throws, Rozier would be fouled on a 3-pointer on Charlotte’s next possession with 33.9 seconds left. He would knock down all three and cut the deficit to just 123-121.

De’Aaron Fox would score on the next Kings possession, but only ran 10 seconds off the clock. Washington responded with the final three of his 42 points, making it a one-point game with 17 seconds left. On the final Sacramento possession, Hield, an 85.2% free throw shooter, split a pair of free throws, giving Charlotte a chance to tie or win the game.

Monk chose the latter, driving past Cory Joseph at the top of the key and using Washington’s pop to the 3-point line as a decoy to get to the rim and finish through Richaun Holmes’ foul, tying the game with 1.4 seconds left. His ensuing free throw gave Charlotte the lead and Hield’s half-court effort came up short, sealing an improbable win.

“It was a play for me or P.J,” Monk said of the final sequence. “I told Melo to pass it to P.J.. He was like ‘Nah, you get it’ and so I had to make something happen and that’s what happened.

“That’s all we’ve been doing all year man is battle, battle, battle. Coach always says resiliency and that’s what we showed tonight, man. P.J., it was big from P.J. P.J. kept us in the game all night and that win really goes to P..J. I give that to P..J.”

Washington indeed stepped up on a night when Gordon Hayward and Cody Zeller joined Devonte’ Graham on the sideline as late scratches, leaving just Ball and Rozier as the holdovers in the starting lineup. Given a larger role offensively, Washington was dominant throughout, scoring 14 points in the second quarter and 12 in the fourth with five 3-pointers.

“He stays with it,” Borrego said. “He’s not hanging his head. He knows we believe in him. He believes in himself. Tonight, he got more touches. He was more involved. P.J.’s a heck of a player. He’s a talented young man and you saw that tonight. He let it fly. He was aggressive.

“P.J.’s not hanging his head this season,” he continued. “He’s working through it and really proud of his effort tonight. He was fantastic. He got us through this one. This is P.J. Washington’s win tonight. He was fantastic.”

“I felt good,” Washington added. “It always feels good when you’re shots falling. When your shots falling, you want to shoot more. So, I just tried to be aggressive with my shots and try to take good shots and whenever my teammates found me, I tried to make the defense pay with either making a layup, making a three or passing out to somebody that’s open.”

Ball was vital on the night as well, particularly with Rozier struggling throughout the night and finishing with just eight points. Ball notched 14 points and eight assists in the first half as part of his 24-point, 12-assist performance in 39 minutes, tying a career-high.

“I thought Melo was good tonight,” Borrego said. “I thought he was a little gassed, though. I mean, this is tough. Nineteen years old playing this many minutes, he’s getting everybody’s best shot. He’s at the top of everybody’s scouting report at an early age of 19. They’re hounding him. They got full pressure on him and he’s handled it with maturity and poise and I thought he was great again tonight.

“I thought tonight was a very mature game by him. And I wish I could have played him more but I guess 38 (minutes) will do.

Even if Sunday’s game wasn’t the first improbable comeback on this West Coast road trip, let alone the season as a whole, it will almost certainly be the most memorable. It pulls the Hornets to an even 2-2 on the road trip, one game shy of .500 on the season and back into the eighth seed in a tight Eastern Conference playoff picture.

“We’re all young and it’s crazy that we are this young and we can battle with every team to the end of the game and be able to come out on top with a lot of games,” Monk said. “It’s just us being together, talking to each other and we’re just having fun out there, really.”