The recharged and refreshed Charlotte Hornets exited the NBA All-Star Break in the same manner they entered it, culminating in a 121-113 road win over the hometown Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night in Minneapolis, MN.
Leading the charge was another strong performance from LaMelo Ball, who finished with a game-high 32 points, five 3-pointers, 10 rebounds and eight assists for his career-high fifth straight double-double. Gordon Hayward also had one of his best showings of the campaign, posting new season highs in both points (27) and rebounds (game-high 13) to go along with five assists and two steals.
Charlotte shot 56% over the opening two quarters to enter halftime holding a 72-64 lead, marking its fourth 70-point first half of the season and second in three games. A 20-11 fourth-quarter-opening run got Minnesota right back into the thick of things though, giving the Timberwolves a 109-107 advantage with 3:59 left on the clock.
With momentum shifting, the Hornets quickly stabilized and used a game-ending 14-4 stretch that was highlighted by several key plays on both sides of the floor; an offensive rebound tip-in by Hayward, a Mark Williams block on Anthony Edwards, a Ball 3-pointer that doubled Charlotte’s lead to six with 1:21 remaining and then another driving Hayward floater on the ensuing possession.
“We made plays at both ends,” said Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford, when asked about the team’s final four minutes. “You want to learn from every experience. We’ve played a lot of close games. It’s great for morale and confidence when you win. We made a lot of good plays in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. The biggest factor was the way [the team] handled coming up here on Wednesday and having two good days of practice, where they had the right attitude. We did a lot of work and it paid off tonight.”
Added Hayward, “We had some timely buckets for sure, but more than anything, we got the stops when we needed them. That’s kind of been a problem for us all year. Especially in the first half, we were getting stops and being able to run, get easy buckets and use our athleticism. Having multiple people bring up the ball is dangerous. It faded a little bit in the second half, but that’s what I was proud of was our resilience to be able to hold our ground and not let this one slip away.”
Washington (20 points) joined Ball and Hayward in the 20-point club, and reserve Nick Richards was also in double figures with 10 points. On the health front, Kelly Oubre Jr. returned from a 24-game absence because of left hand surgery to put up eight points on 2-of-6 shooting and three rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench. Despite some first-half foul trouble in the frontcourt, Charlotte still managed to win the rebounding battle by seven (52-45) and shot a near-season-best 89.3% from the line (25-of-28; 18-of-20 in the first half) to help notch their sixth win in seven head-to-head meetings with the Timberwolves.
On the Minnesota side, the recently-crowned first-time All-Star Edwards had a team-high 29 points to lead six Timberwolves players in double figures, while Rudy Gobert totaled 17 points and 10 rebounds for his 23rd double-double of the season. Minnesota had 16 turnovers leading to 19 Charlotte points and took only free-throw attempt in the second half (10-of-16 overall; 62.5%).
The Hornets will now return to Charlotte to close out their back-to-back and open a four-game homestand against the Miami Heat on Saturday, Feb. 25 starting at 7 PM ET. Follow all the action on Bally Sports Southeast and WFNZ 92.7 FM.
1 / 10MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 24: Jaden McDaniels #3 of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Gordon Hayward #20 of the Charlotte Hornets go up for a jump ball during the game on February 24, 2023 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)