Since becoming disabled I’ve had the honor of writing the recap articles each Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In healthier times I would travel to Atlanta and participate in the annual march once even having the sublime honor of walking alongside Dr. King’s widow Coretta. There is a lot going on today for sports fans, not the least of which is the NBA-announced approval of the Kings to a consortium of investors in Seattle. Congrats to the city of grunge and liquid sunshine. Your Sonics are coming home! Us Carolinians can relate to your joy. Our second team (and quite possibly soon-to-be our second Hornets team) hits the court today to take on the Houston Rockets. Don’t let their seven game losing streak mislead you. Houston is second in the NBA in scoring in the paint – one of this year’s Bobcats model’s most glaring defensive weaknesses. I also have a stellar record of writing Bobcats recaps in losing efforts. Here’s how it all unfolded at Time Warner…
Charlotte took an early lead by exploiting Houston’s tendency to turn the ball over, but it didn’t take long for James Harden to tie things up. Nevertheless, Charlotte shot back out in front and at the midpoint of the quarter a Kemba Walker three-pointer and an aggressive and one in the paint by MKG stretched the lead out to a healthy 16-8 span. Houston, the only team in the league younger than the Cats, quickly committed half a dozen turnovers that the Cats converted to 10 points. At the risk of sounding cruel, it felt good to watch the Cats capitalize on the mistakes made by an opponent for a change.
As the clock wound down to the final minute and a half, Jeff Taylor hammered home a pair of pretty dunks. The first was in heavy traffic. The second was just a moment later after he stole the ball and raced off alone for a fast-break score. When he landed after the second dunk though he came up grabbing at his left knee in pain. He had to be helped off the court and sent back to the med room for x-rays. Any Cats injury constitutes a player we can’t afford to lose, but Taylor is an integral part of Charlotte’s “Bench Brigade” despite his sometimes inconsistent play. His efforts were a big part of the Cats succeeding in racking up only their third 30-point quarter of the season. The score after one quarter had our hometown heroes up 30-22.
Coming out for the second quarter Charlotte began opting to go for shots beyond the arc with both Gordon and Walker clanking long-range bombs off the rim. Houston – a team that often lives or dies by the number of treys they bury in a game (averaging 10+) started heating up from the perimeter and inside as well and quickly halved the lead.
The Bobcats refused to relinquish the lead and with 7 minutes remaining in the half Jeff Taylor not only came out of the med room, but re-entered the game despite a strained left quadriceps. His return provided the team with an obvious lift as the guys picked up an offensive rebound and second-chance bucket from Hakim Warrick that halted the momentum the Rockets had built up and spurred the Cats on a run of their own. Jeremy Lin traveled on successive possessions and Warrick drained a high-difficulty jumper while covered in Rocket players to get the Felines back in front by 10. Although Bismack Biyombo only managed a pair of points for the half, he fiercely blocked 4 shots, including the one that sent the Cats into a transition basket that pulled Charlotte out to an eleven point lead and sent the teams to the locker room with the Bobcats extending the lead to 56-45.
Kemba Walker led all scorers at the half with 17 points – the only Charlotte player in double-digits although MKG was knocking at the door with 9. Houston had a slight one-rebound edge but their 9 turnovers to the Cats 5 more than made up for that. The Rockets also looked very winded and tired as the horn sounded while the Cats players looked almost surprised that the half was over that quickly. Knowing Kevin McHale well from my years in the Boston area, I wondered if he might be planning to hire some guys with billy-clubs to go all Tonya Harding on Kemba to give his team a chance in the second half.
Like every other NBA game in history, it was only a matter of time before the trailing team made a concerted run to get back into the game. Houston came out charging in the third, looking to erase the Charlotte advantage. They made steady progress, but it was slow and involved a lot more energy and time than it should have because the Cats did everything possible to disrupt the Rockets’ flow. The quarter was half over before Houston came into range of gaining their first lead of the night, pulling to within a point, 62-63. At that point though, the Cats went into defensive shutdown mode and denied the Rockets a good look at the basket for a pair of possessions while getting the ball into the hot hands of Kemba Walker at the other end. A minute later the Bobcats had not only fought off the charge of the Houston squad, but had pulled back out ahead by five. Ramon Sessions, a bit frustrated with his 3 for 8 efforts from the field, began taking the game to the Houston guards. The net result, as usual, was Ramon spending a good deal of time at the charity stripe where he was 5 of 6. Again, as usual, this helped him regain his confidence and enabled him to start scoring in the open court again despite pushes in the back and other assorted antics. The Kemba Walker show continued as well. He drained a pair of treys in a row that left the Rockets in the dust. At the end of the third, Charlotte held on to the lead 81-74.
Just to give you a slight idea of the kind of game Killer Kemba was having, here’s a statline for you:
28 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 5 assists.
Anyone would be happy with that level of production for a game. But that was Mr. Walker’s production in just three quarters. Can you say All Star? I knew that you could. Welcome to Mr. Walker’s Neighborhood.
Early in the fourth Patrick Beverly took control for Houston with an and-one and some aggressive work on the offensive boards and suddenly it was all Rockets. In just two minutes Houston was a single possession back. Thankfully, they shot themselves in the foot again with turnovers, traveling and then committing a charge in successive possessions. Omir Asik, victim of a repeated mismatch with Ramon Sessions coming at him like Speedy Gonzales, had to head to the bench with 5 fouls. But the Red Rockets (thank you South Park) kept coming. With 7:51 left in the game Houston took the lead for the first time 84-83. Charlotte not only scored quickly at the other end but Biyombo slapped his sixth block of the day into the hands of Ramon Sessions as soon as the Rockets attempted to score again. Both teams hit a small cold snap in scoring at that point but James Harden was able to draw a pair of fouls that put his 85% free throw shooting on the stripe and Houston pulled out by three. Charlotte’s attempt at offense was a glacial one for eleven in the first eight minutes. Houston, keying their defense on exclusively covering Kemba and Ramon, seemed to have found the secret to dismantling the Cats. Kemba’s first points of the quarter came with another trey while fending off a Rockets double-team that was just a bit slow to develop. The game was briefly tied at 88 until James Harden went to the line once again to swish in a pair. On the next possession Walker drew a foul and set a new career scoring high for himself, tying the game once again. At this point the big question was whether Houston would have enough gas left in the tank to carry off the victory or would the energy they had to expend to get them in position for the win be too big a drain?
After a timeout, Biz posted block number 7 and Walker scored yet again. When the game clock dipped into the final minute, Houston held a one-basket lead with Harden once again stepping up to the charity stripe. Harden made them both, taking the lead to 4 with forty seconds to go. Coach Dunlap called a timeout and when the Cats retook the floor they already looked defeated. Gerald Henderson came out muttering mild obscenities under his breath. The Cats got several shots at the basket to close the gap before finally getting called for a loose ball foul. Harden got fouled on the inbounds and scored his 19th point from just the free-throw line (of 29 total) to close out the scoring and Houston ended a 7 game losing streak while I extended my run of losing recaps. The Final score; Houston 100, Charlotte 94.
Any loss hurts, but to hold a lead for roughly 45 of 48 minutes and waste truly amazing performances from Kemba Walker at one end and Bismack Biyombo at the other made it sting all the more. As much as I admired Kevin McHale when he was a player, his most annoying habit – complaining about every single call not in his favor – is alive and well. The man has more unique bitches than the American Kennel Club. Though it matters little, I’m giving a Trade Street Post Gamebreaker Award to both Killer Kemba for his career high 35 points and to Biz for a defensive display that included 7 blocks and 9 rebounds. Solid “D” of any kind is rare from the Bobcats and Biz simply beasted it.
Next up the badly roughed-up Atlanta Hawks come in for a Wednesday night matchup at Time Warner. I’ll likely try to hand off the recap responsibilities to Andrew or Matt to give the Fightin’ Felines a fighting chance down on Trade Street.