Go DJ! That's my DJ!
Despite what may arguably be the worst season in the Cats' short history, one of the few constants for the team has been their mastery of the Toronto Raptors. Although you wouldn't know it from observing the first quarter, the Bobcats have won their last 5 outings against the Raptors. It was a matchup between two clubs lacking in anything resembling an inside presence on offense, so it was a pretty safe bet that whichever team had the hottest outside shooting would walk away with the victory.
The Raptors had a rough day. After an overtime victory last night, there were multiple flight difficulties and the team didn't trickle in to the Cable Box until less than two hours prior to the tipoff. Despite their coach's admonitions to the contrary, a little bit of travel-fatigue was a reasonable expectation. It did not however, explain the lethargic manner in which the Charlotte Bobcats starters performed in the first 6 minutes of the game. Although Toronto didn't generate much in the way of a set offense, they had several early fast break opportunities that generated a 16-12 lead. On the Cats side of the ledger, 10 of their first 15 points were scored from the free throw line. It made me wonder if the Raptor coaching staff had developed a new defensive strategy in an attempt to stop the losing streak against Charlotte. To their credit, once early foul trouble manifested and the Fighting Felines managed to stay close with some solid free throw shooting, the Raptors abandoned their, "Smack-a-Cat" plan. Unfortunately, for Cats fans though, Toronto's Plan B was the modified zone that almost always stymies the Cats offense. The final score for the quarter was Bobcats 20, Raptors 29. On a side note, the refs also receive honorable mention for handling the game with all the skills of blind men with black bags over their heads. I normally don't get on the refs too much, but when Reggie Williams goes to the sideline with a bloody nose and still winds up getting called for the foul, it's a rather noteworthy officiating error.
The Cat-nap continued as the second quarter began and the Raptors tore off to a 35-20 lead. Finally, DJ White decided he'd had enough and slammed home a thunderous dunk over a pair of Raptor defenders that brought his teammates and the dozing crowd to life.
Despite a flurry of activity from White, Derrick Brown, and (surprisingly) Najera, the Raptors continued with their hypnotic zone and the Cats activity gradually slid back into a steady string of missed jumpers and remarkably poor management of the 24-second shot. Every set play seemed to eat up 20 seconds of clock before a rushed attempt at executing a shot would be taken. At halftime the CanadiNBA team held on to a 10-point lead, 43-53.
You all know what happens to the Bobcats in the third quarter. Aggressive play by Biyombo along with a string of Raptor offensive fouls and turnovers sets the Cats on a massive offensive tear. Huh? No, I'm not kidding and yes, you read that correctly. A trey from DJ Augustin capped a 16-4 Cats run and the Bobcats took their first lead of the game (59-57) just before the midpoint of the quarter. Deej and backcourt partner Gerald Henderson both caught fire and the Cats quickly stretched the lead to 70-61. The travel difficulties seemed to start catching up with the Raptors and the steady diet of Charlotte screen and roll plays began to work with steadily increasing regularity. Tyrus Thomas continued his improved play both with and without the ball. Always fearless, Tyrus is once again beginning to play with confidence that his body will handle whatever he asks of it. After one of their best thirds of the season, the Bobcats headed into the fourth with a commanding 81-67 lead.
The fourth began with the Cats second squad giving a well-earned rest to the starters. Although they showed some signs of shakiness (unforced turnovers, bad passing) they managed to hold the Raptors at bay long enough to give the "A" team a chance to get their legs and wind back. Once a Raptor trey cut the lead into single digits though, the starters came back to finish off the final 7 minutes. Although the Cats committed 14 turnovers through 3 ½ quarters, the Raptors eased the curse of it by committing 24 of their own, largely due to offensive fouls. Toronto seemed too physically spent to mount a run, but a spell of defensive complacency by the Cats let the Dinos catch a peek at daylight and cut the lead to 5 as the final minute began to tick down so few if any of the fans were able to make an early exit. A tipped and stolen inbounds pass later and suddenly the Raptors were just one hoop away with just under 12 seconds remaining. Toronto played the odds, fouling DJ Augustin as quickly as they could, but Deej got both of his charity shots and stretched things out to 107-103 to close out the scoring. There is no such thing as an easy win in this season for the Bobcats, but it was a win nonetheless.
The Trade Street Gamebreaker Award winner for the night was an easy choice. Scoring 24 points on 11/14 shooting, Gerald Henderson was ready to step up whenever and wherever it was needed to hold the Raptors at bay. But I'm awarding a second Gamebreaker Award for this game as well. Paul Silas has mentioned in the past that he would give his son Stephen a shot at coaching a game here and there and tonight Coach Silas the Younger took the reins. He drew up several well-executed plays during timeouts and made the timely and necessary substitutions that allowed the Bobcats to recover from an almost blowout and turn things around. He was every bit as instrumental to the Bobcats victory as any of the players on the court. Nice Job Stephen!
After a day off to prepare, the Bobcats will take on the Philadelphia 76ers at Time Warner Cable Arena on Monday evening. The 76ers are having one of their best seasons in memory but have been struggling a bit of late. The Cats will have to bring their absolute best game to the court to bring another victory to the home crowd down on Trade Street.