Hornets rally from 23-point deficit to win season opener

LaMelo Ball picked up where he left off last season, scoring a team-high 31 points to help Charlotte start is season with a win

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) is guarded by Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon (7) during an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

CHARLOTTE — With a career-best seven 3-pointers, reigning Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball scored a team-high 31 points Wednesday as the Charlotte Hornets rallied from a 23-point hole for a 123-122 home win over the Indiana Pacers.

P.J. Washington swished a pair of free throws with 4.6 seconds left in the game to give the Hornets their one-point win on the opening night of the NBA season. 

“Obviously we didn’t want to get off to the hole we were in, but this group proved to themselves that we have the fight, resilience and perseverance to never give in,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “We have to build from this now.”

Indiana had climbed to an 82-59 lead midway through the third quarter before the Hornets offense exploded for 24 unanswered points and eventually stretched the offensive burst into a 47-17 run.

Ball’s long-range accuracy and sharp passes were the catalyst for the big run, setting into motion an offense that had been lacking a rhythm up to that point. The second-year point guard was 11 of 23 from the field in the game and recorded nine rebounds with seven assists. 

At the same time the shots began to fall, Charlotte’s defensive intensity picked up, holding Indiana to just 13 third-quarter points after the Pacers had scored 75 in the first half. The Pacers didn’t go down quietly, however, as they managed a 14-3 run of their own in the fourth quarter that made the final two minutes of the game a back-and-forth slugfest. 

With 45 seconds left in regulation, Miles Bridges scored a go-ahead layup to give Charlotte a 121-120 lead. The fourth-year forward recorded 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the contest. 

Indiana’s Torrey Craig responded with two made free throws as the clock reached 12.4 seconds remaining. 

After Washington converted his game-winning shots from the charity stripe on the following possession, he was tasked with guarding Domantas Sabonis, who came up short on a potential buzzer-beater for the Pacers.

Sabonis was active early and often as he scored 10 points in the first five minutes of the game. The two-time All-Star finished the night with 33 points and 15 rebounds, leading his squad in both categories.  

Charlotte started free agent signee Kelly Oubre Jr. at shooting guard in place of Terry Rozier, who was a late scratch from the lineup with a left ankle sprain. Oubre had 14 points and three rebounds in his first game as a Hornet.

Gordon Hayward put together a promising performance for Charlotte after missing the final stretch of the previous season due to an injury. After a slow start to the night, the small forward notched 27 points from 10-for-22 shooting with five rebounds and three assists. 

“It’s a long journey, and we learned a lot about ourselves tonight,” Borrego said. “We’ll take a step forward from here, but we’ll learn a lot. I’m really proud of that third-quarter effort.”

The Hornets will play their first road matchup of the season on Thursday as they travel to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers (0-1).