(Courtesy AJ Mast - AP)
Chalk the Bobcats’ loss on the road at Indianapolis a moral victory. Yet, it didn’t have to be that way if a couple plays went their way down the stretch. The Cats almost handed the Pacers their first loss at home, but fell short 99-94 – the lowest margin of victory for the Pacers at the Fieldhouse.
Late in the fourth, Coach Steve Clifford elected to send out his strongest offensive players in clutch time – Jefferson, Josh McRoberts, Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson and Ben Gordon – conceding size for offensive firepower.
The small lineup backfired, as Gordon missed two jump shots and was victimized by Lance Stephenson in the post for an and-one. McRoberts struggled to contain David West, who scored four straight points to give the Pacers the edge.
Last night’s game was a match-up of the league’s strongest defensive teams, but it didn’t appear that way as both teams scored at will during the first half, after which the Pacers led 56-55. But scoring would be at a premium in the second half.
Jefferson paced the Cats with 21 points and added nine rebounds, two blocks and two assists. Walker, Henderson and Ramon Sessions also scored in double figures. All five of the Pacers starters scored in double figures, with Stephenson leading the way with 20.
Cody Zeller showed some flashes of what he’s capable, hustling on both ends of the court and adding nine points, seven boards and a block.
Stat-lines in the box scores show that the game was closer beyond the final score. The only glaring disparities are blocks - the Pacers had 10 to the Cats’ 4 – and free throws, with the Pacers shooting eight more times than the Cats at the charity stripe.
Gordon’s 24 minutes with many of those coming in the fourth quarter stands in stark contrast to most of this season. Not only hasn’t Gordon played in the clutch, but hasn’t played much at all. He has seen more action recently, but still averages 13.4 minutes per game.
If Gordon hadn’t played down the stretch, Clifford would have likely opted for Jeff Taylor, who only went 4-for-12 from the field, but beat Paul George twice on the baseline, where Jefferson found him for two uncontested dunks.
It might not have made a difference who was out on the court in during crunch time, because the Pacers clamped down and the referees swallowed their whistles. In spite of the disappointing outcome, the contest served as an early season test for the Cats, who passed with flying colors.
The loss sends the Cats to 10-13. A quick turnaround greets them after the tough loss, as they take on the Los Angeles Lakers tonight in Charlotte.