As the Trade deadline approaches, will the Bobcats get this man some help? Time will tell as we come down to the wire.
A road win under the belt with a trio of players dropping in at least 20 points each. If there’s a better way to come home to part two of a back to back I can’t think of it. Add to that the knowledge that you will be facing a team that you have already beaten once this season and it feels like Christmas in February. (Which, if you’re curious is called “Ayyami-Ha” – you can look it up and learn something about one of your TSP writers in the process if you like!) The Pistons were wrapping up a tough loss of their own preparatory to coming to Charlotte for tonight’s game and the phrase “ripe for the picking” comes to mind. While talking to Stephanie Ready before the game Byron Mullens predicted that the team that came out hustling the most in the first quarter would carry the game. So who had the “hustle factor” in their column in the opening quarter and did it indeed matter? You know what to click to reveal the answers! I’ll meet you on the other side of the jump.
From the way the Pistons attacked the paint in the opening frame you would never know they had played a tough game less than 24 hours ago. No matter what the Bobcats tried – no matter which player combo Coach Dunlap put on the court – Detroit simply ran faster, jumped higher, and shot with greater accuracy. It wasn’t because of lack of effort on the part of the hometown heroes. They kept the proverbial pedal to the metal throughout the quarter. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and company rang up 5 blocks in the early going. In fact, MKG had his mid-range jumper once again in full effect. Nonetheless, the Pistons held a comfortable lead in the 6 to 8 point range until time dipped below 2 minutes and the Cats finally put a run together to close to within a point. Detroit responded by breaking back out by 6, but the Bobcats started banging the offensive boards and making good things happen. Ramon Sessions closed the scoring out nicely with a trey at one end and a defensive stopper at the other that held the Pistons below that dreaded 30-point quarter that has been the “Curse Of The Cats” all season long. You could almost hear Ramon putting on his best Bugs Bunny voice and saying, “of course you realize, this means war!” The score after the first frame showed the Pistons hanging on to the lead, 28-25.
It took less than two minutes for the Cats to take the lead for the first time on a Jeff Adrien 16-footer in the second. Ben Gordon kept the momentum going by faking his defender out of his shoes before dropping in his first triple of the evening. I looked real close but was unable to see the target everyone claims is on Gordon’s back. My guess is that either it or he will be gone by 3:01 pm Thursday afternoon. Call it a hunch. However it goes down Ben – there’s plenty of love here at TSP and thanks for being such a big part of the toughest time in the Bobcats history. You were often one of the few things we fans have had to cheer about. Hopefully the good times aren’t over just yet. I’ve been watching you for years and you still have a few more to go.
As the second quarter progressed, the Pistons kept throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Cats to wear them out but each time they’d start to stretch out a lead the Fightin’ Felines were right there with a key stopper or offensive burst to shut them down. Jeff Adrien stood out in particular, drawing fouls and stuffing a pair of blocks back down the shooter’s throat. Kemba Walker pretty much did what he always does; digging for boards and loose balls like a young Crash Wallace and dropping it in the hole like Dell Curry on a tear. The Bobcats closed out the half with a 12-4 run in the last 3 minutes and managed to take a one-point lead into the locker room with a 31-point quarter of their own. Halftime total, Bobcats up 56-55.
As has been so common this season, our sixth man of the year candidate Ramon Sessions led Cats scoring with 14 and Kemba was right on his heels with 10. The surprise was the 8 first half points by a hustling Jeff Adrien. With half a game to go Jeff was only one point shy of his season average which was a good thing, but even better was the pair of blocks, pair of offensive rebounds, and the pair of assists he had in the bank. The renewed hustle was obvious and the crowd responded with enthusiasm and gratitude for his efforts. In fact, the entire team was doing well in the hustle stats with 11 fast break points to Detroit’s 4, leading in 2nd chance points 13 to 2 and out-rebounding the Pistons handily 24-19. On the other side of the court, Ukrainian Viacheslav uhm, Kravtsov (it’s as hard to type as it is to say, trust me) was beasting it up in the paint scoring 6 points in very limited minutes. I have a feeling Greg Monroe is going to be fighting to keep his starter slot soon if the young man continues to develop. In fact, I know you can’t judge based on just a couple of games, but I wouldn’t mind seeing what Kravtsov looks like in Bobcats colors. Even if he’s only a minor upgrade from say, Diop, the pure fun of listening to Steve Martin mangling the name every night would make it worth it.
The third quarter seems to be where the Bobcats have had a tendency to hit the wall this season. Shooters tend to go cold, transition slips into being more of a half court shot-clock-eating amble, and games have a habit of slipping away. Mullie and Kemba fought gamely to prevent that from happening and for the first half of the quarter the two teams traded baskets (and the lead) back and forth. Based on the sheer adrenaline shown by both teams it looked as if both squads were coming back from a day off. In fact, the only player that was having trouble getting into game rhythm was Bismack Biyombo. He was scoreless (0 for 3) and struggling. Like any good player however, he did find other ways to be productive, snaring 8 boards (3 offensive) through three and covering anyone cutting into the lanes to limit the easy-ins that have killed the Cats time and time again.
With just over a minute and a half in the third, Kemba Walker lost his footing and hit the deck, rolling into Brandon Knight in the process. Knight spent several minutes clutching his knee in agony before managing to make his way to the Detroit bench. He left the court as Detroit’s leading scorer with 21 points which may have boded well for the Cats chances, but nobody likes to see a player get hurt like that, no matter how badly he may have been hurting the Bobcats. There were at least a dozen lead changes over the course of the quarter, but the clock expired on a moment when the Pistons were up by a point. The Cats rolled into the final quarter down by one, 77-76.
The fourth started with the Bobcats looking out of sync and the Pistons pounced on the opportunity, springing ahead by nine on the first two minutes. Knight returned to the game but was obviously in pain, hobbled and limping. Detroit quickly called time to get him off the court. The Pistons, as often happens when a key player goes down in the NBA, continued to tear up the court and pulled out to an 11 point lead before Gerald Henderson stopped the bleeding. Kemba followed up with a floater that bounced around on the rim for roughly 8 weeks before dropping in and cutting the lead back to seven. The Pistons once again tried to assert dominance but Mullie, quiet for most of the night, drained two treys in 30 seconds to keep Charlotte in the hunt despite the weight of 5 fouls on his back. The clock slid below three minutes and MKG came out of nowhere to cut the lead down to a single point. Words can’t really convey what Gilchrist’s tenth and eleventh point looked like. The shot clock was winding down (as usual) and Hendo was looking for a shot in a double team (as usual) when he dished to MKG who threw down a dunk with so much authority that it may be the weekend before the backboard stops vibrating. It brought the house to its feet and I guarantee you it will be prominently featured on the season highlight DVD.
As the final (regulation) minute of the game began, Detroit held tightly to a three-point lead. The Bobcats held possession and called timeout to discuss the best way to pry that lead away and make it two wins in a row for the first time this season. For the umpteenth time however, they came up empty on the possession. With 21 seconds remaining, a Pistons free throw made it a two-possession lead and it was desperation time at Time Warner. Calderon managed a steal, got fouled, and took the lead to a full six and that was all she wrote. Mullie’s pregame prediction came true. Detroit flashed the most energy in the first quarter and also took home the victory. The final score; 105-99.
The Cats will have precious little time to mourn the loss. After a sliver-thin one day break they’ll face their next back-to-back as first the Bulls and then the Nuggets come in for Friday and Saturday. The Bobcats continue to play with renewed vigor and have a very realistic shot of winning at least one of the two games this weekend so I heartily recommend an evening at the Cable Box if you’re looking for some mighty fine pro ball down on Trade Street.