Kelly Tripucka led the Charlotte scoring attack against the Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday night and then verbally stung the Hornets' fans.
Tripucka came off the bench to score a season-high 25 points, including 14 in the final period, leading Charlotte to a 94-92 victory over Cleveland. Tripucka, in a season-long shooting slump, was a non-starter for the first time in 92 games with Charlotte, an expansion team a year ago.Tripucka, a nine-year veteran who recently became the target of fans' verbal abuse when the team lost 12 of 13 games, cried openly during a post-game radio show that was also broadcast to 1,000 fans who remained in the Coliseum.
"First of all, let me get this off my chest," Tripucka said. "You people come to the game and have a right to do what you want. Boo if you want, but don't ever accuse our players or me that we don't bust our butts every night out.
"You don't build a winning team in a season and a third. I thought we (the city, the fans, and the team) were in this together. This has been the most difficult thing for me."
Tripucka was the Hornets' leading scorer last year but this year he has hit only 37.5 percent of his shots and is seven points off his 22.6 scoring average of last season.
"I came here last year thinking this was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Tripucka said. "I had hoped to finish my career here. But now I don't know. I feel like I didn't do anything wrong. I know I'm not playing as well as I can. Is that a sin? I don't like being criticized for not trying."
Larry Nance, making his second start of the season, scored 27 for the Cavs and pulled in a season-high 12 rebounds in their fifth straight defeat.
After Charlotte built a ten-point lead early in the fourth quarter, Nance's two free throws with 1:55 left in the game tied the score 88-88. Tripucka hit a 22-foot jumper with 1:31 and Armon Gilliam grabbed one of his dozen rebounds and put in a layup with 16 seconds left to give the Hornets a four-point lead.
Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues, who was replaced in the starting lineup by Robert Reid, had 17 assists and sparked a late third quarter rally that helped the Hornets to 10-point lead.
Tripucka hit his first five shots as the Hornets gained their first lead in three games, 32-30, with 7:56 left in the half.
Dell Curry, who replaced Tripucka as the starting small forward, scored 16 points and Gilliam added 19. Mark Price scored 17 and dealt nine assists for the Cavs.