Hmmm...something positive from tonight? If you look to the left of Kemba's head...I am the first of the Cats Crazies...and we filled up row Q in Section 117. That's about it.
The Bobcats have spent the first third of December in a nightmarish repeat of much of last season. Hoping to pour salt into the wound, the lava-hot (3 road wins in a row and 7 of 9 overall streak) Golden State Warriors come in to spend a Monday night at Time Warner Cable Arena. We all know what that means. Yes, another truly tough game for the Cats. Yes, lots of zone defense. Most of all, lots of references to Stephen Curry being Dell’s son from Steve Martin that will be about as subtle as a sledgehammer. It’s a given that Curry the younger will have a party at the Bobcats’ expense. He loves coming home to the Carolinas. This is the sort of game that only pro hoops fans and truly masochistic Bobcats fans could enjoy. If you fall into either of those categories, read on. If not, I promise this will be a very brief retelling of a game that was never as close as the final score indicated.
The first and only question of relevance in this game is whether or not Coach Dunlap and crew have learned how to correct the weak and exposed underbelly of the Cats defense. The answer is a qualified no. The Warriors are one of the few teams in the league that aren’t loaded with perimeter sharpshooters. Consequently, they were limited to a total of 8 of 20 from behind the three point arc. (Half of those were hit by the ever-improving Stephen Curry.) However, the slow defensive rotation that has allowed opponents to all but score at will creates problems in addition to weak perimeter protection. It also creates brief but wide-open passing lanes into the post. The Warriors ability to capitalize on that aspect of the game is reflected by the stat-lines of David Lee (25 points, 8 above average) and Carl Landry (16 points, 4 above his average.) Neither man needed to do much more than stand just outside the paint in the post position and catch, turn, and lay the ball in the basket.
The Fangless Felines gave up 38 points in the first quarter alone and you could almost hear channels being changed on televisions across the state. As the Warriors bench got into action during the second, the torrid scoring slowed down a bit giving the Cats a chance to get back into things. Unfortunately, the usually reliable Cats “B” squad couldn’t seem to get into rhythm tonight and although defensively they held Golden State to 20 points, they were only able to tally 17 of their own. By the half the Warriors were in complete control leading 58-40.
The third quarter ended with the Warriors increasing their lead by a single point thanks to an amazing buzzer-beater bucket by Curry. I’ve admired this young man since the day I first saw him play, but tonight he irritated me quite a bit – especially in the second half. He was having a heck of a good game (27 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) which is not unusual when he’s playing in Charlotte. Maybe it’s just me, but as the game progressed he seemed to be doing a bit too much celebrating and posing/posturing. After holding his pose for roughly five seconds after the aforementioned quarter-ending shot, I was actually surprised he didn’t pick up one of those “respect the game” fouls that were all the rage not so long ago. Again, maybe I’m just being a bit thin-skinned about it, but I’d be interested to find out if anyone else watching the game thought he was trashing it up a bit much out there tonight.
During the fourth quarter the Bobcats actually started to climb back into contention. It wasn’t as much of the expected last-gasp run that is common in the NBA as it was a persistent stroll. The Warriors eased up on the throttle a bit (after pouring in 35 points in the third quarter) and only managed 11 points for the entire quarter. This made the utterly average 22 that the Cats put on the board seem much more threatening than they actually were. They closed to within 10 with four full minutes to go and Golden State couldn’t seem to buy successive baskets. The momentum had finally swung fully into Charlotte’s favor and I, along with the crowd, got the sense that with just a bit more hustle and pressure there was a real chance to steal the game.
There is an old cliché that spreads across virtually every organized league in every sport when a team is on a losing streak. I can’t recall a time when it applied better than in tonight’s final minutes. As the number of consecutive losses begins to mount you will hear the color commentators in particular say, “It looks like they’ve forgotten how to win.” Believe me; the Cats have forgotten how to win a ballgame. It isn’t a recurrence of the old problem where there was no “go to” guy on the squad. Our current roster has several. Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions, Kemba Walker, and Gerald Henderson are each capable of taking charge, asking for the ball, and going on a scoring tear. What happened tonight was different. The Cats would get into the frontcourt and fiddle around on the perimeter for a good 18 seconds or so until the clock wound into the “red.” At that point they would try to rush a shot. As the game entered the final minute the Cats were still closing in. The lead had shrunk to 6 points and would have been even closer if the Bobcats hadn’t eaten up so much of the clock each time they had possession. There were several unnecessary turnovers as well. It wasn’t that the guys weren’t firing on all cylinders so much as it looked like they had no idea what play to run to capitalize on the sudden opportunity to get the win.
Speaking of missed opportunities, it’s pretty obvious to most everyone (enough so that Steve Martin has commented on it several times) that Coach Dunlap is just waiting for the right moment to slide Gerald Henderson back into the starting slot so Jeff Taylor can go back to being a rookie instead of feeling pressured to start and play solid ball for 30 plus minutes per game. Tonight Jeff had a rough go of things, limited to just four points and a couple of assists. Hendo however, came off the bench and only managed to score seven points, failed to pick up an assist, and committed four turnovers in 18 minutes. That’s not the best way to earn a starter position.
Here’s the rundown of how our better-performers of the night earned their paychecks:
Kemba Walker; 24 points, 6 assists, 4 turnovers. (There were plenty of THOSE to go around!)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist; 17 points, 7 boards, 3 turnovers (all in the final 5 minutes)
Ben Gordon; 14 points (3 of 6 behind the arc)
Byron Mullens; 13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
Ramon Sessions; 12 points
The Cats get a day off, but things aren’t going to get much easier when they get back into action on Wednesday. They’ll host the LA Clippers and then get on the plane to Atlanta for the back end of yet another home/away back-to-back. After that the Bobcats will have one last home game on Saturday against the Orlando Magic. After that the team heads out west for four games in five nights before getting a break for Christmas. But don’t worry. We get to play Miami on 12/26. If you’re a Bobcats fan, the month of December is uglier than Yukon Cornelius after a bar fight with the ‘Bumble Snowman!