Kemba Walker leads Charlotte Hornets past Brooklyn Nets

By Larry Fleisher, The Sports Xchange

NEW YORK -- In Madison Square Garden, guard Kemba Walker's reputation for clutch performances has been known since his virtuoso 130-point, five-game performance in the 2011 Big East tournament for Connecticut.

Across the Hudson River at Newark's Prudential Center and across the East River in Brooklyn's Barclays Center, things have not gone as well for Walker.


It changed Sunday night when Walker scored 28 points and led the Charlotte Hornets to a 104-96 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

Walker had been 0-6 in road games against the Nets since being Charlotte's first-round pick in 2011. He lost twice in Newark in his rookie season and four times in Brooklyn. When the Hornets posted a 14-point victory in Brooklyn last March, the New York native sat out recovering from knee surgery.


With several family members and friends in the stands, Walker nearly reached 30 points for the ninth time this season. He made 11 of 18 shots, including 4 of 10 3-pointers and is averaging 26.2 points on 47.8 percent shooting (45-of-94) during Charlotte's five-game winning streak.

"I'm just playing ball," Walker said in an attempt to downplay playing in New York. "It's just the way the game was going I had to make plays. I just took the best opportunities presented to me. It had nothing to do with me being home. I really just wanted to win the game and make shots.

Walker scored 12 points during the third when Charlotte went up 16 and took an 86-73 lead into the fourth. He added seven more in the final period, including two timely hoops in the final 4:25.

"It don't surprise me at all," Charlotte reserve center Al Jefferson said. "Kemba, he's been doing what he's been doing for a long time and this is my third year of playing with him and he's one of the reasons why I signed with Charlotte because I knew that he was a rising superstar and he's just proving me right. It's fun to play with. He's the heart of this team. He's our engine and when he's going we all go."


"He's always been like that from Rice (High School) to UConn to here," Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said of Walker. "I just think the bigger the game (Walker produces), but I think he definitely likes to come home."

While it was another big night for Walker, he had help as the Hornets shot 50.6 percent and hit 10 3-pointers. Jefferson hit his first five shots and added 18 in his second game back from knee surgery, and guard Nicholas Batum contributed 16 points in a game which featured three buzzer-beating 3-pointers.

The Hornets never trailed after Walker ended the first with a 3-pointer and took a 55-48 halftime lead when Batum hit one before the horn. Charlotte took an 86-73 lead into the fourth when Nets center Brook Lopez beat the clock from behind the arc and things became a little dicey.

The Nets cut a 16-point deficit to 95-91 on a dunk by Lopez with 4:42 left. On the next possession, Walker drove around reserve guard Markel Brown and Lopez for a nifty finger roll layup to reach 25 points.

After Walker's layup, Charlotte forced consecutive turnovers and took a 99-91 lead on two free throws by Batum with 3:11 left. After a missed 3-pointer by Johnson, Walker was on the verge of crossing over Lopez but center Cody Zeller was called for an offensive foul.


A little over a minute later, Walker sealed the win with a corner 3-pointer for a 102-91 lead and found Zeller for a dunk with 57.3 seconds left.

"We just couldn't seem to stay in front of him," Brooklyn interim coach Tony Brown said. "He shot 10 3s but he hit some critical ones in the second half to kind of take the steam out of our engine. He played great. We just didn't do enough to slow him down."

Walker's performance sent the Nets to their 41st loss in 56 games before heading out on a nine-game road trip and while Brooklyn placed five in double figures, nobody had more than 17.

Johnson led Brooklyn with 17, Lopez added 16 and forward Thaddeus Young contributed 14.

The Nets had decent showings from their frontcourt but it was a struggle outside the paint and on the perimeter. Brooklyn scored 52 points in the paint but went 9 of 34 outside of it and misfired on 17 of 22 3-pointers.

"I thought we had some stretches where we played great basketball but we also had stretches where we didn't play so great," Johnson said.


NOTES: Interim coach Tony Brown said F Andrea Bargnani expressed an interest in parting ways with the Nets. The former top overall pick of the 2006 draft was waived Saturday after signing the veteran's minimum last July and Brooklyn is expected to buy out his contract. ... F Courtney Lee made his debut for Charlotte as a starter and scored five points in 21:25. "It's really good to have Courtney," G Kemba Walker said. "He's a really good player." Hornets F/C Spencer Hawes (sore lower back) missed his second consecutive game and Clifford said he could be out a while. ... By waiving Bargnani, the Nets have an open roster spot but Brown said he has not had discussions with the front office about filling it.

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