Shai Gilgeous-Alexander nailed a jumper just inside the 3-point line with under two seconds left as the Oklahoma City Thunder held off the Charlotte Hornets 109-107 at Spectrum Center.
Charlotte guard Terry Rozier (19 points) missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer as the Hornets fell to 0-2. Forward Miles Bridges (14 points and six rebounds) led a frantic comeback that made up what had been a 13-point OKC lead in the fourth quarter.
A horrible-shooting third quarter — 6 of 31 from the field — largely did in the Hornets on Saturday.
This loss dropped the Hornets to 0-2 with a rough upcoming schedule. They play the Brooklyn Nets, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Sunday at Spectrum Center, then travel to Dallas for a Wednesday game against the Mavericks and Luka Doncic.
P.J. Washington, who struggled in the preseason for the Hornets, finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.
The Thunder got 24 points, nine assists and seven rebounds from Gilgeous-Alexander. George Hill scored 21 for OKC on 8-of-9 shooting from the field.
Ball balled-out first half
Major turnaround shooting-wise for rookie LaMelo Ball. After missing his five shots in the season-opening loss in Cleveland, he went 5 of 6 from the field in the first half to score 13 points in nine minutes off the bench.
Ball seemed much more confident in his body language in making two of his three first-half 3-pointers. Teams are clearly prioritizing the drive in guarding him, so he has plenty of space on the perimeter.
Gordon Hayward was brought here not just as a scorer but also as a decision-maker with the ball to improve the Hornets’ half-court offense. That sure showed in the first half when Hayward scored or assisted on nine of Charlotte’s 21 first-half baskets.
Even missing all three of his 3-pointers (his forte is more the mid-range shot), Hayward’s ability to make the Hornets more efficient offensively was apparent.
The center minutes mix
As expected, veteran Bismack Biyombo started at center with Cody Zeller missing at least the next month with a broken left hand.
Coach James Borrego said pregame he wasn’t sure how he’d distribute minutes at center behind Biyombo. He started using power forward Washington as a small-ball center prior to Zeller being injured. The other two options are rookie big men Vernon Carey and Nick Edwards, who combined for just 24 minutes in four preseason games.
Borrego used Biyombo for 18 of a possible 24 minutes in the first half, and he performed well with four points, four rebounds and four assists. Also, Thunder center Al Horford went scoreless in the first half, and Biyombo committed just two fouls.
Eventually, Carey and Richards are going to have to play to ride out Zeller’s injury. For now, particularly after a truncated preseason, Borrego is in no hurry to test those rookies.
Borrego continued to use a 10-man rotation — longer than what you typically see in the NBA — but shooting guard Malik Monk again didn’t play. With Zeller out, Caleb Martin played in the first half. Also, Jalen McDaniels, who is comfortable in either forward spot, played primarily power forward Saturday.
Monk missed a week of training camp after testing positive for COVID-19. Borrego has been working him back. Asked pregame about Monk, Borrego said, “He’s doing well. Great attitude — he’s getting in better shape, he’s looked really good in practice, he’s doing everything he can.”
The Hornets had turnover problems in the preseason, then were outrebounded 57-41 in the season opener. Tough to win when you narrow your possessions that way.
The Hornets committed fewer turnovers (13 to 17), but were outrebounded 54-47.
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