Our hometown heroes are facing an uphill climb against a superior Heat team tonight. Reeling after 3 straight losses, can the Cats take a trip down to South Beach and win a tilt against the defending champs? The team looks for a boost with the return of Byron Mullens to the lineup for the first time since his ankle injury on December 22nd. Welcome back Mully, we missed you. However, the return of Mullens also comes with the loss of MKG. Kidd-Gilchrist came away from the ugly collision on Saturday with thankfully just a concussion, and he should be back soon. Prayers for MKG would be much appreciated! The NBA has a lengthy list of requirements that must be met by a concussed player before they can return to action. Before the first item on that list can even be attempted, the player has to receive a completely clean bill of health from the physicians. On the negative side, it means that MKG will not only miss the Heat game, but will also at the very least miss the next game as well. On the plus side however, the NBA position on concussions ensures that the health of the player is the first priority ahead of profits, playoff hunts, or won/lost records. When our rookie does return he’ll likely be in better health than he was in the moments just prior to his injury. Something else on the Bobcats side tonight...the Heat played in Toronto last night, and they decided to stay and watch the Super Bowl in Toronto. They didn't land home in Florida until 3 a.m. Could this bring some mojo for the Cats tonight?
The Cats...or should I say Jeff Taylor came out firing early as he took 5 shots in the first 5 minutes amounting to a grand total of 0 points for himself, the team however...looking good! The boys in blue ran out to a 10-7 lead by enforcing their will on the glass starting out with a 9-4 advantage on the boards with 5 offensive rebounds. Another plus has to go to whoever decided to sign Jeff Adrien, the man started out on fire with 8 points 2 boards and a block within the first 7 minutes of the game. He's brought constant energy to the team and is growing into being our only consistent inside presence. Speaking of inside presence...well, a tall guy, Byron Mullens entered the game for the first time with around 3 minutes left, and the Cats subsequently had a 24 second shot clock. If you've been watching the Cats recently, you must have caught on to the 4 guard one big lineup that we've been running so much recently. That poses a problem against the Heat when they can throw out LeBron and consistently draw a mismatch. The return of Mullens will help lower the need for the use of that lineup, but it seems like the team is going to start playing more zone defense, as they broke out a 3-2 zone in the middle of the quarter to lower the amount of mismatches the Heat could set up. Anyways, the end of the quarter showed a Heat lead of only 22-21in a quarter that saw the Bobcats shoot a paltry 1-7 from deep. Needless to say we might need to pick that up if we want to stay in this game.
During the first it seemed like the Bobcats were going with the strategy to let LeBron go off but limit the rest of the team. Seeing how he started with 13 of their 22 points in the quarter, it was a strategy I liked. There's a Reggie Williams sighting! He hasn't showed up on the court much recently, but his long range shooting could prove valuable tonight. He quickly hits one to cut the Heat lead to 32-30 with 7 minutes left. The bench mob played a huge part in keeping this game close, as they started the game out scoring the Heat bench 16-6, with very balanced scoring. A little side note...I'm starting to think that Ben Gordon's pass button is broken...he came out shooting a blistering 2-7 while holding the ball and stopping what ball movement we started to create. He's a joy to watch when he gets hot, but its nights like this that make me question his value on the team, especially on a team with a logjam in the backcourt. Finishing out the half with some defensive back and forth, the Heat took a 47-43 lead into the locker room, with 30 points in the paint. As I stated earlier, the bench kept the Kitties in the game, outscoring the Heat bench 20-13. I think it's about time these guys get a nickname...lets hear what you guys think.
Some awfully sloppy play to start off the quarter leads to a scoring hiatus for the first 3 minutes until Biyombo breaks the seal followed by 2 straight Heat buckets and a 6 point lead. A Jeff Taylor bucket put the Cats in the lead, but then he was called for a technical foul on the other end after getting charged into by LeBron with no foul call. This kid is really growing up and it makes you wonder if MKG might become expendable at the right price...after the Bobcats took the lead for a brief second, Lebron went into "I'm the best player in the world playing against the worst team in the league" mode, and he finished the quarter with 21 points on 9/10 shooting...watching him play is just a gift, and he is unquestionably the best player in the game today. Ending the quarter with only a 3 point deficit is a huge bonus for the Cats, especially with our leader Kemba Walker on the bench almost the whole quarter with 4 fouls. Speaking of fouls, we can't buy a call, and I feel like that's becoming a consistent thing.
Heading into the 4th the Kittens were looking for the biggest win of the season and a potential momentum builder, while playing without MKG and essentially Kemba due to foul trouble. With 9 and a half left, a Sessions basket, a defensive stop, and a Ben Gordon fadeaway 3 led the Cats to a 10-0 run and a 3 point lead on the defending champions, this stretch run is going to be something to watch! After we took our first 4th quarter lead the Heat jumped back out to a 79-74 advantage and the way their defense is suffocating us right now, it just seems as if they had been toying with the Cats the whole game. Ben Gordon's getting trapped, Hendo's being forced to shoot fadeaway jumpers and missing, it's an offensive struggle and the Heat opened up a 7 point lead, followed by a turnover by the Cats and a LeBron alley oop. Again, a blessing to watch someone with his skill. With a 9 point deficit in the 4th quarter, the Bobcats would normally just give up and not show any fight, but not tonight. A quick 6-0 cuts the Heat lead to 85-82 and suddenly we have a game again! A Chris Bosh layup is followed by a Ben Gordon 3 point play and the lead is down to 2; I haven’t seen this sort of fight from our team in quite awhile. The last minute of the game saw a bombardment from the Heat and the Bobcats shooting ice cold from 3, as the Bobcats fall to the defending champions 99-94
Great, GREAT effort from the boys tonight. No MKG, Kemba in foul trouble, LeBron playing out of his mind, and we only lost the game by 5. I'm not a big believer in moral victories, but tonight had to be a building block for this team. When a player like LeBron has a game like he did tonight, its going to be tough for any team in the league to put up much of a fight against this Miami team. However, tonight we showed that against all odds, we can compete with the upper echelon teams in the league, and fight to win games on the road. It's hard to pick a TSP game breaker award when 6 players scored in double figures and another had 8 points, but tonight's award goes to Ramon Sessions. Sessions walked away with 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists. While not having the flashiest line, Ramon was involved all night on offense, while shooting 10-10 from the line and playing extended minutes with Kemba on the bench.
One of the main reasons we played well tonight was the return of Mr. Mullens. With the added big who's able to space the floor, the Bobcats got many more open looks tonight than we have been without him in the lineup. Also, we can stray away from the 4 guard lineup which I alluded to before, because while effective on the offensive end, it makes us vulnerable to teams who can pound the inside, shown by a 66-38 advantage for Miami with points in the paint.
Next up for the Cats, a date in Cleveland on Wednesday against Kyrie Irving and friends. Last time out against that pesky bunch, it took a typical Kyrie Irving miraculous 4th quarter and game winner for Cleveland to sneak out of the Cable Box with the victory. Coming into this next tilt with a little bit of momentum off of this game, hopefully the Cats can pick up a road win and improve a little more in this long grind of a season.