I love our youth...
The importance of the game at Time Warner cannot be overstated. Our path to the playoffs starts with a win against the Timberwolves. It will also involve incredible luck, roughly 200 injuries to players on other Eastern Conference teams, and the entire stock of a meth lab roughly the size of the state of Colorado, but that’s later. First comes a win against the injured, depleted, reeling, Minnesota team. They’re exhausted already after a loss to the Washington Wizards less than 24 hours ago. Yes, that’s right. They fell to the Wizards. They also have 6 players on the injured list. I’m excited because it’s virtually a lock that my streak of recaps of losing games will end here. There’s NO WAY the Cats can fall! Right? I am right, aren’t I? Why is everyone already shaking their heads? Did I just hear someone mutter the word, “deluded” under his breath? Why are y’all looking at me like I’ve already dug into the inventory of that Colorado-sized place I jokingly mentioned? As I type this, the tip-off is just about to happen. I don’t see what could possibly go wrong. Here we go! Game time! Steve and Dell are ready. The players have been introduced. My fingers are ready to record the events leading to our first home victory since forever. Let’s get down to it, shall we?
The Wolves shot out to a 6-0 lead in what I can only assume was Coach Dunlap’s master plan to lull Minnesota into a false sense of confidence. This was arguably the most successful plan Coach has come up with all season because it made the T-Wolves look great. Even after the Cats started scoring, 4 offensive rebounds by Minnesota, along with a blocked shot and a gorgeous alley-oop score had the words “swagger” and “Timberwolves” used in the same sentence for the first time since 2009. Once the score reached 14-4 Dunlap iced the cake by calling a timeout with a look of shock and desperation on his face that was so realistic it was Oscar-worthy. Anyone not knowing better would have been utterly convinced that the Charlotte Bobcats were really that listless and incompetent. But we know better, don’t we Cats fans. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink)
As the first quarter reached the midpoint virtually all the Bobcats starters had taken a seat on the bench and the “brigade” was in. Moments later the score showed Minnesota up 26-10 and I suddenly realized this was no master plan by our resourceful coaching staff. I’m not sure if it was the utter lack of defense by the Bobcats, the second foul by MKG, or Ramon Sessions knocking his own free throw rebound out of bounds that tipped me off, but I came to realize that yes, my beloved Fightin’ Felines truly were stinking up the joint. With more than 2 minutes left in the first, the Cats had coughed up 31 points against a team so plagued with injuries a more accurate name would have been “The Minnesota Timber-Temps” because of the sheer number of 10-day contracts on the court.
At the buzzer, just as the Cats managed to cut the lead down to a “mere” nine points, JJ Barea threw up a shot from halfcourt to end the quarter. I know; it’s the sort of thing we see at the end of every quarter of ever NBA game all season long. Only the difference spoke volumes about the Bobcats luck of late. This one went in and after one quarter the T-Wolves were comfortably on top - 34-22.
I still don’t know which was sadder – that it went in or the fact that the Timberwolves didn’t even need it to get over the 30-point threshold.
Here’s a riddle for you; how do you win in the NBA when you give up 34 points to one of the absolute worst teams in the league? Right. YOU CAN’T. I’d get a mop to clean up all the sarcasm I’ve already dripped, but I have a strong feeling that I’m not through just yet. At this point sarcasm is the only defense I have against the advent of wracking sobs. Did I really sit and watch my Bobcats – this same team in this same building – play in the NBA playoffs just a few short seasons ago? Was that just an illusion? We don’t need to bring back the name “Hornets.” If they continue to play like this we should change the name to the “Charlotte Hairnets” because they’re playing like a bunch of old ladies. Byron Mullens said in the pregame show that he might be ready to return to action in a week or so. It can’t happen soon enough. I’m ready to offer Robert Parrish a chance at another comeback at this point.
Minnesota built the lead to 16 points before the Bobcats put together an eight-point run to move within 8 points for a few brief seconds. It was just enough to give the until-that-moment stunned fans at Time Warner something to cheer about. Moments later the Wolves had once again stretched the lead out and halfway through the quarter the score was 45-32. Gerald Henderson managed to make an incredible block on a Rick Rubio fast break to keep things from getting any worse and inspire Bismack Biyombo to block one on the next position. The crowd once again responded, hoping that the twin defensive stoppers would work to shift the momentum of the game in favor of our hometown heroes. Unfortunately, four seconds later MKG committed his third foul. Roughly four seconds after that, Ben Gordon traveled. On the next possession, Ramon Sessions passed the ball to a kid in the 4th row beside the baseline and the Bobcats momentum was in the upper deck men’s room sneaking a smoke.
If this is your first time reading one of my recaps let me assure you that I truly am a devoted fan of the Charlotte Bobcats. I was a fan from the day they were first announced. I was there the day the LadyCats held their first tryouts. Y’all are probably aware that the Cats have a longstanding relationship with Presbyterian Hospital. Well, I worked for a decade for the company that owns Presbyterian. I was a purchasing agent. It was my job to purchase and see to the installation of every box of sutures and every piece of equipment installed at Time Warner Cable Arena – including the ambulances and transport vehicles used by the medical staff. It’s taken a season and a half of cheering for this heartbreakingly poor team to turn me into the blogging equivalent of Bob Euchre in the Major League films. I have great hope for our future, but the present’s so dim I have to wear Ray Charles’ shades.
In the waning moments of the first half Kemba Walker buried a trey to keep the Cats within view of the racing Timberwolves and this time (thank the Lord) Rubio’s halfcourt shot rimmed out at the buzzer and the LadyCats took over the court with the object of their cheers trailing 47-58.
Here’s the good:
Minnesota scored 24 in the second quarter – a full 10 points less than their first quarter production. Way to go Charlotte defense!
Ben Gordon led all scorers, coming off the bench as our best hope for the seventh man award (no caps because there is no such award) pouring in an even dozen. Right behind him was our 6th man, Ramon Sessions with eleven.
Here’s the bad:
Minnesota also had two players in double-digit scoring. Luke Ridnour and Greg Stiemsma – both starters – had 11 and 10 respectively. Did I mention that the T-Wolves were crippled with injuries?
The Wolves already had 6 treys. Their game average is 5. To contrast this, Charlotte had 2 on 7 attempts.
Oh yeah, the ugly:
The Wolves had us beat on the boards 18-14, led us with 15 assists to our 12, and had only put 8 players on the court. Coach Dunlap, trying frantically to find some combination that would work on the court, had used 11 and each of them walked off the court at the half with slumped shoulders and hanging heads.
The Cats pulled to within eight points three times in the early going of the second half, but each time were pushed back by Minnesota’s ability to score at will on offense. The Cats offense however, was unable to execute with any regularity. To give a pair of examples; the only Charlotte big to score was Bismack Biyombo. He had 4 points in the paint. No other Bobcats player at the 4 or the 5 had managed to score. On one possession, Gerald Henderson used Biz for 4 count ‘em FOUR screens before passing the ball out of bounds while trying to connect with a well-covered Tyrus Thomas.
With just less than four minutes left in the third the Cats were finally able to mount a small run, coming within four points of catching the Wolves 69-65 but each time the Cats scored the T-Wolves responded at the other end.
Finally, the clock slid down under a minute. Ben Gordon rolled a shot in at one end and brought the Cats within a single basket of tying it up. No sooner did the action get to the other end than Gordon got into a cussing match with Andrei Kirilenko, earning himself a technical foul. Before the quarter could come to a close the Wolves had once again moved a bit further ahead. Score after three; Minnesota 77, Charlotte 73.
It was anyone’s game at that point. The Cats were still in it. My argument however, that Charlotte should have had their easiest win of the season, was made no less valid and the multiple walking wounded players in civvies around the T-Wolves bench were no less injured by the close score.
The clock was at 9:59 in the fourth quarter when Kemba Walker hit an 18-foot jumper and the Bobcats took their very first lead of the night at 81-79. The Wolves tied and Kemba once again responded, this time with a trey from at least four feet behind the arc.
Perhaps my initial impression that it was all a ruse by Coach Dunlap and crew was correct after all. Less than three minutes later the Cats, on the strength of an and-one by Biz, were ahead by 8 and appeared to be manhandling the T-Wolves as if they we toothless Pekinese pups.
But it wasn’t meant to stay that way for long. Minnesota called time out and came back on the court to kick of a 7-0 run and once again silence the crowd. Suddenly the Bobcats runaway train was sputtering and stuttering like an old Chevy Vega. With 4:37 to go Barea buried his third trey of the night to tie things back up at 93. The Cats crept out by a few but yet another Wolves rainbow from the arc knotted the score up again at 97 each with 1:05 to go. That particular shot was the Wolves tenth three pointer of the night, officially doubling their game average.
A Minnesota steal resulted in a fast break basket but Biyombo got a chance at an and-one with it all tied at 99. He missed the shot from the charity stripe and with 36 seconds to go the possibility of overtime began to loom over the crowd. Rubio ran up the baseline for an uncontested layup and it was looking bad in the Cable Box. At the other end the Timberwolves defense swarmed like… well, like a bunch of hornets, almost stealing twice and then knocking the ball into the backcourt with the clock all but expired. Miraculously, Kemba managed to get the ball to Henderson who drained a buzzer-beating trey of his own as the 24-second clock expired. Minnesota got the ball back in the frontcourt with 4.6 seconds to go and trailing by a point. Believe it or not, Minnesota put up an airball at the buzzer and the 849 game home losing streak (give or take a couple) ended along with what felt like my own personal endless run of losing recaps. Final score Bobcats 102, Timberwolves 101.
The crowd and the team erupted like they’d just won the NBA Finals. That’s how badly the morale of this team had needed a home win. Now the Bobcats will have the rare pleasure of heading out for a series of road games with a win under the collective belts. Charlotte’s last home win was way back on November 21st of last year. It has been one epic drought. The team won’t have too long to celebrate however, as they will report to Chicago on Monday night in hopes of stretching the win streak to two in a row.
The TSP Gamebreaker Award can only go to one man. Throughout the adversity, the losses, the heartaches, one man has stood solid and unshaken – full of faith and resolve that this team had greatness coming towards them in the future. Tonight’s award goes to…
Of course I’m kidding. Having already won the “backbreaker” award, I’m ineligible. I’m actually going to hand out a pair of them tonight. Why? Well, partly because there have been so few wins the past season or so that we have a stockroom full of the things. But mostly it’s because there were two deeply deserving players. Kemba Walker came very close to a triple double, scoring 25 (even though we know he’s capable of better, don’t we) but also grabbing 8 rebounds, dishing out 8 assists, and stealing 3. If you’re looking for which Eastern Conference player got snubbed the worst in the All-Star selections this season, look no further than Charlotte’s own number 15. Whatever it takes to keep this young man on our roster for his entire career, he’s more than earned it. Right behind him was Ramon Sessions with his tenth 20-point game of the season. Ramon “merely” scored 23. However, he also committed more than a third of the team’s turnovers (6), which took him out of contention for a Gamebreaker of his own this time. For this game, the second Award has to go to Gerald Henderson. His 15 points and 4 rebounds, while not quite as impressive as Ramon’s offensive output, when added to his lone turnover and his nerves of steel in fearlessly nailing that trey in the closing moments of the game to set up the victory more than earned him the award. Y’all may find these awards meaningless but the truth is that they are priceless. Okay, that’s only because they’re also non-existent, but as my kids told me every Christmas as I opened the latest macaroni art original, it’s the thought that counts. (You would think that now that my youngest is almost 20 years old and my firstborn is in his mid-thirties they’d come up with some kind of different gift, but hey, what’s a dad to do?)
Well, our next recap will be Monday when the Fighting Felines take on the Chicago Bulls. Now that my unlucky string is broken I may just fearlessly volunteer to do the next recap and Press My Luck. Big Bucks! No Whammies!!!!!!!!