(Courtesy Todd Sumlin - Charlotte Observer)
It’s truly a shame that the Cats lost this one. They had the Lakers right where they wanted them for the majority of the game, and they had no problem asserting themselves on offense. The Cats even used their youth to their advantage, out-hustling the Lakers for loose balls and rebounds. But still, Kobe Bryant wouldn’t let the Cats keep him from getting his first win since coming back from injury.
In a game like this one, it’s important that you play with energy. Most of the time, a team as inexperienced and young as the Bobcats will falter under the big-name pressure that comes with playing a team like the Lakers. Thankfully, the Bobcats have a great history against the Lakers, consistently giving them trouble nearly every season. This game was no different, as the Cats started the game off by pushing the pace by any means necessary. Kemba’s stop-and-go quickness gave the Lakers tons of problems, and really created chances down low for some of the big men. Kemba finished the game with 24 points off 10-13 shooting, and he even dished out 8 assists. The point-guard play really gave the team a solid foundation for the remainder of the game, as the Lakers had to do everything in their power to stop the speedy Walker. This typically resulted in packing the paint on drives, leaving somebody open for Kemba to hit on a pass. One of the best sequences in the game came in the 3rd quarter, where Kemba split a few defenders with a bounce pass to Josh McRoberts, leading to a McRoberts throw-down dunk. On nights like this, where Kemba’s shooing is lights-out, things just happen easier for the Cats.
The Lakers kept up with the pace of the Cats up to halftime, where they grabbed a quick 44-43 lead thanks to some crazy shooting from Nick Young (AKA: Swaggy P). While the Cats defense was looking very solid and pronounced in the first half, the second half gave way to more open 3s and general mental lapses. The Cats would give up 7 made threes, and they even fouled Swaggy P a few times behind the line. Even still, things were looking good for the Cats, as a very solid offense began to blossom with the starters closing out the 3rd. Not to mention the solid night from Big Al, who really went on a tear in the 3rd. Al finished with 13 points off 7-18 shooting, giving us a very early look at what can happen when this team really figures out how to play and space around the big man. The Cats ended the 3rd up 68-64, and it really seemed like they were about to take this one away from the Lakers yet again. Then the 4th happened.
For one reason or another, there’s something about the 4th quarter that really clouds the Bobcats’ execution on both sides of the ball. While they played the Lakers from the 1st-3rd quarter very well, it seemed like it was all lost in the last 12 minutes of action. The defensive rotations were slower, the rebounding slipped a bit, and the Cats couldn’t hit a good-looking shot to save their lives. It’s truly a crime, seeing as to how the Cats were getting very solid production from just about everybody; 10 points from Ben Gordon off the bench, 6 points and 5 boards for Biz, and a crisp 13 points and 6 rebounds for Gerald Henderson. If there was ever a night where the Bobcats looked smooth on offense, this was certainly the night. As the pace of the game slowed tremendously, the Lakers were beginning to force the Cats to run their half-court offense in the 4th, which is definitely not a strong asset to this team currently. This really gave the Lakers a chance to get back into the game, along with the poor defensive rotations. After fighting to hold on to a 85-84 lead, the Cats made the ultimate mistake by fouling Kobe on a pump-fake that he’s used hundreds of times before. This gave the Lakers a chance to take an 86-85 lead, and they were not looking back, giving the Bobcats their 14th loss on the season.