Another game, another milestone.
The Charlotte Hornets continued their surprising play Wednesday night by beating the Milwaukee Bucks 118-111 in overtime before the usual sold-out, raucous crowd in the Charlotte Coliseum.The win was the Hornets' first ever over the Bucks in seven tries and it boosted their record to 8-7, continuing their best start ever. Last year, the Hornets didn't win their eighth game until Jan. 6.
It was accomplished against a team that was riding a five-game winning streak and came in 11-3, the third-best record in the league.
``We beat a good, solid team that has been playing extremely well,' Coach Gene Littles said. ``When we started slow last year, it was tough to find wins. The other team just showed up expecting to win. Now, if you don't come to play us, you may get beat.'
The Hornets welcomed forward Armon Gilliam back to the lineup after he missed four games with tendinitis in his knee. Gilliam responded by playing 44 of the 53 minutes, scoring 20 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. Littles said he only rested Gilliam for short stretches so his knee wouldn't tighten up.
``My knee feels sore,' Gilliam said after emerging from the shower. ``It felt pretty good until late in the game. I hope this will go away in a few days.
``I didn't expect to play this much and I was sucking wind for a while. Early in the game, I was out of sync but as it went on I got in the groove.'
While Gilliam agreed that it was the Hornets' biggest win of the season, he didn't get caught up in exuberance.
``We're playing well now and this builds confidence,' he said. ``But we have to keep it in perspective and realize we have to keep doing it. It's a long season.'
Gilliam had plenty of help. Rex Chapman and J.R. Reid shared scoring honors with 21 points and Johnny Newman added 16 for Charlotte.
After the Hornets scrapped and clawed to force the overtime, they dominated the extra five minutes. Reid's driving layup and free throw gave them their first lead of the night at 105-102 and Milwaukee never got it back.
Reid made a key play moments later when he made a steal and outlet pass to Newman, whose slam made it 111-106 and gave the Hornets breathing room.
``They'd been running a play for (Ricky) Pierce at the foul line all night,' Reid said. ``I saw it coming and Alvin Robertson was lazy with the pass. I wanted to grab the ball but someone got a body on me, so I tipped it out to Johnny.'
If Charlotte was ever going to beat Milwaukee, this was the perfect opportunity. The Hornets were rested from three days off while the Bucks had spent the day traveling after playing at home Tuesday night. The team was also playing without head coach Del Harris, who missed the game with the flu, and was being led by assistant Frank Hamblen.
But despite the travel, Milwaukee didn't play tired. A 14-2 run by the Bucks midway through the first quarter boosted them to a 27-15 lead and gave them a working margin they maintained most of the game.
Another spurt, 11-2 at the beginning of the third quarter, pushed the lead to 63-49 and made the task even more difficult for Charlotte.
But the Hornets chipped away and began to take control of the boards until they finally drew even at 100. Reid tied up Jack Sikma and, as they fell in a tangle on the floor, Muggsy Bogues wrestled the ball away. As he started upcourt, he was fouled by the Bucks' Frank Brickowski. Bogues swished both free throws with 34.7 seconds left to tie it.
Milwaukee ran an isolation play for Pierce, its scoring ace. With Newman defending, Pierce drove to the baseline, pulled up and arched a 10-footer through for 102-100 with 13.4 seconds remaining.
After a Charlotte time out, Chapman drove to the basket and Sikma, the Bucks center, moved to him on the defensive switch. As Chapman soared to the hoop, forward Fred Roberts also jumped in the way. Chapman pulled the ball down, drew contact, then laid the ball up, where it hung for a split-second on the rim and dropped through with 3.7 seconds showing.
The Hornets wanted a foul on the play, but the officials' whistles were silent.
``It wasn't a designed play for me,' Chapman said. ``We were just looking to get a bucket any way we could.
``I was going to dunk it, but someone jumped in the way and I thought I better put two hands on it and make sure I got the bucket. There was contact, but they didn't blow the whistle.'
The Bucks called time and inbounded at midcourt, but Newman played Pierce tough, forcing him away from the basket. When Pierce got the ball, all he could do was turn and shoot from about 20 feet and it wasn't close.
That set up the scintillating overtime, when things broke Charlotte's way.