Walker leads Hornets past Pelicans 115-109
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Kemba Walker wasn’t about to succumb to the notion that he might be having an off night and start passing up shots — not with the Hornets trailing in the fourth quarter and trying to stay in the race for a playoff spot.
Walker scored 21 of his 32 points in the final 10 minutes, and Charlotte kept alive slim postseason hopes with a 115-109 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.
“I think it just comes naturally; In those kinds of situations, I think my team is kind of looking for me to be more aggressive and make some plays,” said Walker, who made just two of eight shots through the first three quarters.
The Hornets, who came in on a three-game skid, trailed by five in the middle of the fourth quarter when Walker’s 3 ignited a 14-6 run that put Charlotte in front for good.
“That shot in particular, I had a little space and just rose up and took a shot,” Walker recalled. “That was the shot that kind of got me going. I was struggling all night.”
Walker — who also poured in 38 second-half points two nights earlier in a loss at Utah — quickly added a pair of driving layups and a second 3 during the decisive spurt in New Orleans.
“It is more his will and his comfort just to live in those moments,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “His ability to stay poised, take big shots, and make big shots and make big plays … very few guys can do that. He is very comfortable in those moments.”
Frank Kaminsky added 21 points and rookie Devonte Graham scored a career-high 13 points for the Hornets (36-42), who, with four games to play, sit 2½ games behind Orlando (39-40) for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“Anything is possible,” Walker said. “You never know what can happen. So, we’ve got to just keep playing hard, try to win.”
Julius Randle had 34 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, which has dropped five of six games.
Ian Clark and Stanley Johnson each added 17 points for the Pelicans, who looked primed to push the Hornets to the brink of elimination when they surged into the lead with a 15-3 run in the fourth quarter.
Recently acquired Latvian guard Dairis Bertans hit two 3s during that spurt and a dunk by recently acquired center Christian Wood put New Orleans up 93-88.
That’s when Walker’s first 3 of the game, with 6:18 left, ignited Charlotte’s decisive surge. Walker then scored 16 more points inside the final 5:33 to keep the Pelicans at bay.
“You have to give Kemba credit,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “He made tough shots and (had) guys in his face on step-back shots.”
Hornets: Marvin Williams sat out with a right foot injury. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist started in his place — just his second start this season. He had five points and five rebounds in 20 minutes. … Jeremy Lamb scored 12 points in 30 minutes off the bench. … Walker has 26 30-point games this season.
Pelicans: All-Star Anthony Davis missed his fourth straight game with back spasms. … The club paused between the first and second quarters to honor David “Big Shot” Jovanovic for his 30 years as the equipment manager for the franchise, beginning with the original Charlotte Hornets and through the club’s move to New Orleans and its renaming as the Pelicans. The ceremony included pre-recorded messages from former Hornets players Dell Curry and David Wesley, and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson presented Jovanovic with a gold basketball. … Randle has scored 30 or more 10 times this season, his first in New Orleans.
Graham, a 2018 second-round draft choice out of Kansas, matched his previous career high of 11 points Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers before scoring all 13 of his points in New Orleans during a 9 minute span in the second quarter, when he hit three of four 3-point shots.
“It was great,” Kaminsky said. “He’s making big steps, a young guy trying prove himself. He’s doing all the right things. It’s great to play with someone like him who can score, who can facilitate, always makes the right plays.”
Hornets: Host Toronto on Friday night.
Pelicans: Visit Phoenix on Friday night.