I'm Gundy Dammit!
TSP Andrew - As I drove home from the Bobcats game tonight, I was thinking of a good way to discuss and reflect on the game tonight, and how to share it with the fans. My thoughts were mostly negative...ho hum...and lacked much sparkle or polish. I had something put together and published before I checked my inbox to see a shiny, fun recap, that makes everyone smile and take notice. So with that, I give you Bruce Barker's version of our game tonight.
The Orlando Magic. The name alone spurs a broad mix of feelings amongst the Bobcats faithful. Anger, revenge, and yes, even some fear and pessimism are common for those of us who remember or attended the only 2 playoff games to date played at Time Warner Cable Arena. So was this another plucky victory like the Bucks game, or a never-say-die effort like the Miami game? What happened? You know the drill and you can see where to click for the details.
Orlando charged out to an 11-0 lead in an attempt to kill all dreams of a victory. But the Bobcats, as they have done since their first season, came roaring back by the end of the first quarter, still behind, but well within reach of the Magic. In fact it never ceases to amaze me how pro sports teams pick up a certain set of habits that compile the team "personality" regardless of how much the roster changes. The Bobcats have always been known as a team that never gives up. Many thought that would all change with the trades that brought about the exit of Gerald Wallace and most of the rest of the "core" squad. But it still lives on. Sadly, the Bobcats are also well known for their "turnoveritis," and not much has changed in that stat either. By the midpoint of the 2nd quarter, the Fighting Felines had already committed 7 and were shooting themselves in the foot in their efforts to hold the Magic close. Also, despite some very encouraging rebounding statistics against Miami, there were several instances where the sole Magic shooter in the forecourt was able to grab the rebound while surrounded by as many as four Bobcats. These problems, (although admittedly not as serious as in previous seasons) along with some cold shooting, allowed the Magic to grab a 16-point lead before DJ Augustin came through with a 3-pointer to stop the bleeding. In the waning seconds of the half Big Baby literally stopped time with an impressive long-range bomb off of an errant inbounds pass. The refs watched the replay numerous times before deciding (after roughly 8 minutes) that the 3-point basket should not count – giving Big Baby something to cry about. (Somebody had to say it!)
At the half, the Bobcats still faced an uphill climb, facing a 56-43 deficit. Like always, I found myself wishing I could be a fly on the wall for Coach Silas and his locker room adjustment plans. The only true Bobcats offense in the first half fell upon the shoulders of DJ Augustin who was the sole player in home gear with double-digit scoring.
Whatever was said however, the Magic seemed ready. Despite Corey Maggette showing everyone that the sun has not yet begun to set on his skills, the Magic seemed to have an answer for everything the Bobcats threw at them. Each time the Cats began to put together a gap-closing run, Orlando would quietly pull back out to a 13 to 15 point lead. Maggette was a man possessed stepping up to be the only second scoring option as Gerald Henderson struggled offensively throughout the game before finishing up with 8 points on a humble 4 for 13 night. Despite getting hosed on an offensive foul call where JJ Reddick's left foot was well off the floor, Corey's 9-point quarter kept Orlando from running away with it entirely. Dwight Howard has made a career of playing basketball with his elbows more than any other body part, and this game was no exception. Howard got away with more elbows than the Mueller's Macaroni Company, but his abysmal free-throw shooting (4 for 10 after 3 quarters) proved that karma was on the job. Quarter 3 ended with the Bobcats still clinging to the edge of the same 13-point hole as at the half with the score at 75-62.
The Cats lit a fire during the break and came out battling hard to start the fourth, quickly cutting the lead to single digits for the first time since the opening quarter. Unfortunately, needless turnovers (fouls on consecutive possessions this time) continued to pour ice water on any momentum the Bobbies would muster and their shooting percentage fell to an anemic 36%.
In the end, experience proved unstoppable against youthful enthusiasm. In what has rapidly become part of the Magic "personality," Orlando used the 3-pointer like a rapier in the hand of an Olympic fencer. They left the Bobcats bleeding from the sting of 14 strikes where the Cats failed to rotate quickly enough in their effort to double-team Howard. The final score when it was all over was 100-79 with the Bobcats offense scoring 15 points below their average for the still young season.
I'd like to say that the game was closer than the score would indicate, but the last time a told a lie that big my nose grew so long that NASA used it as a staging area to repair the Hubble telescope. To put it bluntly, the guys got outclassed big-time. Orlando did little more than toy with the Cats before crushing them completely in the last quarter. So why do I feel so good about the team after such a humbling shellacking?
To begin with, the attendance looked stronger than it was last season despite the anticipated lockout fan backlash. Final attendance figures totaled over 18 thousand. I interviewed a member of the Bobcats ticket sales staff at length a few days ago and while he couldn't reveal exact figures, he said that management was astonished at how well season tickets and advance sales. The numbers across the board have exceeded target goals not only for the shortened season, but were expected to finish well above last season's sales as well. It certainly looks as if he wasn't blowing smoke up my a.. uhm, that is to say, he wasn't exaggerating.
In addition, it can't be stated enough times that this is a team just beginning a rebuilding process that is expected to take several seasons to complete. As a result, we have a roster mostly comprised of rookies and underperforming veterans with bloated contracts. Many of these guys are on the court with players that they've never played with before. The Bobcats faithful are all too familiar with the amount of time it takes for chemistry to develop in such circumstances. That means that this team will steadily improve with each game. I don't expect us to trounce Orlando the next time they meet, but I do believe they will be far more competitive than they were tonight. Although the dozen turnovers are too high, it's very encouraging considering the number of new Bobcats getting minutes.
Also, our returning veterans seem to have taken the extra off-season time to prepare and condition themselves. Boris Diaw has noticeably slimmed down and the up-tick in his speed and agility is apparent. DeSagana Diop is also in much better shape. Although there isn't really a tangible difference in his stat-line as of yet, tonight he out-hustled the Magic to chase down a loose ball in the corner and managed to harness his momentum well enough to remain inbounds. It was encouraging to watch both men running up the court instead of doing the "shuffling mosey" we've all groaned about in the past.
Lastly, even though Dwight Howard managed to crash the boards at will (24 rebounds!) it was in large part because this is still a team in search of a true center of quality. I don't expect our rebuilding Bobcats to roar into the top playoff seed in the Eastern Conference this season, but they should continue to live up to their reputation for handily surpassing preseason predictions.
The TSP Gamebreaker award for the game goes to Corey Maggette largely because he was truly the only player whose efforts really stood above his teammates. Far more important than his 20 points and 7 rebounds for the evening, Corey was the catalyst for each run the Bobcats made for most of the game. If he stays healthy, he could very well become the man that steps up to take the burden off of Deej and Gerald Henderson whenever one of the pair has an off night.
The Bobcats pack their bags for a 3-game road trip that will bring them to Miami for a New Year's Day game against the Heat. You can bet that Miami is still smarting over barely escaping Charlotte with the win last Wednesday. They will want to decimate the Bobcats just to show that their shaky performance down on Trade Street was a fluke. How well the Bobcats handle themselves in this game will say a lot about what we can expect as the season progresses. If they are able to bounce back from tonight's offensive efforts and remain competitive with the Heat on the road, it will go a long ways toward showing that His Airness and Professor Cho are on the right track. If not, the reasons for being optimistic that I listed are still in effect. It's going to be a shortened, but very exciting season for Bobcats fans. Remember, if you see any of us at the Cable Box, be sure to say hi!