LaMelo Ball learning to lead as Hornets suffer fourth quarter collapse


A vital part of the process with a young squad is learning how to close out games, particularly on the road. 

The Charlotte Hornets weren’t able to do so at STAPLES Center, with a brutal 27-4 game closing run for the LA Clippers sinking the Hornets to a disappointing loss. 

Arguably the league’s most entertaining League Pass squad, the Hornets now drop to 5-6 on the season as they navigate a five-game West Coast trip that has gotten off to an 0-3 start. Up next is the Los Angeles Lakers, before the trip concludes with a visit to Memphis.

Trailing by two points entering the fourth, the Hornets began the final period on a 15-4 run, before LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward checked into the game. From that point on, the Hornets gave up the 27-4 run, with the duo going scoreless down the stretch.

“I feel like I’ve got to be in there longer for the fourth quarter, you feel me?,” Ball said postgame in response to Ben Golliver of the Washington Post. “I feel like I came in a little late in the game.”

“If not, I feel like we could just let the squad go that was going.”

The decision to sit Ball and Hayward for almost six minutes to begin the period made some sense, with James Borrego’s initial lineup opening up a gap. 

It does come only two weeks after Ball told Borrego to keep him on the bench and ride the hot hand of Ish Smith in a big road win over the Brooklyn Nets.

“Melo, I’ve got to give Melo a ton of credit. He said, ‘Just ride out Ish. Ish is hot, Ish is rolling. I trust it. Let’s go,'” Borrego explained after the October 26 win.

“And that’s just maturity on his part. He could have easily wanted to get back in that one, but Ish delivered tonight. Second half, big shots, big plays, both sides of the ball, big block on the other end defensively. So you’ve got to give Ish a ton of credit.”

The major difference on this occasion was the Hornets didn’t pick up the win, opening up the opportunity to question the rotational decision down the stretch. 

Ball has been spectacular to start his second season in the league, averaging 20.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists. Despite tonight’s late struggles, the Hornets offense has cratered without Ball on the floor, dropping by an incredible 14.8 points per 100 possessions when the rising point guard is on the bench. 

Overall, Ball is playing just 30 minutes per night, but he is averaging 8.3 minutes per night in the fourth quarter, making tonight somewhat of a rare occurence. 

While the willingness to let Smith cook two weeks ago was admirable, you get the sense his desire to be on the floor tonight is the mentality Hornets fans want to see. Stars aren’t happy to watch from the sideline. Ball is certainly on the fast trajectory to becoming thay guy for Charlotte. 

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