Well, after a spirited afternoon of email exchanges that involved everything from cries for Coach Dunlap’s head, to headed defenses of the man, to Salma Hayek and Jennifer Lawrence, to corn dogs, and back to Coach Dunlap, it’s time for another Cats game. (No, we never take a day off, and that’s only a tiny glimpse at what you’re missing by not being part of the staff here at TSP.) Tonight’s Cats Assassin Hopefuls are the Portland Trailblazers. At present they are struggling to find their way into playoff contention which means there is every chance for the Cats to lose this game by less than 20 points. Pessimistic? Moi? Nah, not me. Optimists see a donut. Pessimists see a hole. I’m a realist. I just eat the thing and look for some milk. The Cats have been playing the most uninspired ball I’ve ever seen on this road trip. Last night cries of, “time to give up” could be heard all over the Charlotte locker room – and that was when the guys from the home team started pulling into the parking lot. I’m kidding, but the game became irrelevant for everyone but the player’s moms early on. I pray that tonight is a better game. Was it? Take the jump if you dare fellow Bobcats lovers.
The first quarter showed the Cats fighting the good fight. The score was 13-12 in Portland’s favor when Jeff Adrien threw a hip-check that would have brought the crowd to its feet in the NHL. Since this is the NBA, the player calmly picked himself up off of the floor in the third row, caught the inbounds pass, and drained a trey. As the teams ran back up the court, the player looked at Adrien and made what I’m sure was a very nice comment asking about Jeff’s mama. Well, it was something like that, but I couldn’t quite catch the gist of it by lip-reading. Ahh sportsmanship. Oh, the dude then hit another one on the next possession. With four minutes to go in the first, the Blazers led by seven. Coach Dunlap decided to give Jeff an opportunity to call home and it was time for Desagna Diop to come in and take over the game as only he can. (See, who says I can’t be optimistic?) The lead grew to nine moments later and Coach called timeout. After making certain that he left his hockey stick behind the bench, he sent Adrien back into the game. It was just after the timeout that the Trailblazers decided to fully display the deep respect they had for the Charlotte Bobcats. Steal, long pass upcourt to a streaking player all alone. Instead of taking a shot, Nicolas Batum deliberately threw the ball hard high against the glass so that it bounced into the hands of trailing Luke Babbit who slammed in a thunderous dunk. Showboating in the first quarter? Really? And how is your sainted mama Luke? Well isn’t that special. Score after one quarter had the Blazers up by six, 31-25.
The Cats fought hard in the early second quarter as the bench brigade came out looking hungry for the first time in a while. Bismack Biyombo and Jeffery Taylor slammed home a pair of dunks off rare assist passes by Ben Gordon, but slack defense at the other end (Blazers shooting over .60% at this stage) kept Charlotte from closing the gap. The Blazers were able to score at will and as a result the lead would swing from a manageable four out to eight or nine and then back again. As has been the way of things on this road trip though, the lead gradually grew to 11 and the Cats would only cut it down to seven or so. Then the lead swelled to 13. Up until recently I had thought this particular thing to be odorless but believe me, the smell of, “been there, done that” began to permeate my living room. Things were looking all too familiar. I typed a sentence that said as impressive as shooting .48% may be, you can’t win in the NBA when you allow your opponents to shoot .65% at the same time. I then realized that I had typed that exact sentence at least twice in the past month or so of recaps. Yeah, been there, done that, got the t-shirt that says, “Don’t be redundantly redundant.” In the time it took me to type all of that the lead grew to 15. On the plus side, McRoberts continued to earn his orange and blue paycheck with a scrambling pair of offensive boards. On the minus side, he also slammed the ball into the stanchion in frustration, earning an earful from the ref that included a warning that next time he’d get T’d up for it. I only know this because I was able to read his lips when he said, “you’re right, I’m sorry, my support didn’t show up” as the teams left the court for the half. Oh yeah, the afterthought – I mean, the score. Portland up at the half, 68-55.
Are my recaps covering things (the McRoberts event with the ref for example) that are ancillary and incidental to the game? Nobody has written to complain, but nobody’s taken the time to send an email saying, “dude, love those anecdotal moments man. You make me laugh and feel like I’m actually there.” But when the team is tap dancing out on the fringes of the West Coast and the clock is bustling along towards morning I’m as susceptible to keeping myself awake and amused as anyone. My team was being treated like the newspaper at the bottom of a bird cage. Four Blazers were in double digits at the half and Ramon Sessions had reached the 10-point milestone for the Felines, so that should present an indication of the problems facing our heroes. They got through the half with a mere 4 turnovers and owned the boards 23-19. These are good things. But Portland nailed 8 treys in just the first half and that was solely because they apparently got bored with dunking all the time. The 68 points scored by the Trailblazers set their single half scoring high for the season. This is at least the fourth time since Christmas we’ve been kind enough to hand that record to a team. Again, I hear the voice of Dana Carvey saying, “Well isn’t that special.”
Well, the games resumed in the third quarter. Why plural? Well, the Blazers came out playing basketball. The Bobcats came out playing the mutated form of it known as “one and out.” A suddenly stingy Cats defense forced a cold snap onto the Portland shooters and as a result, the lead failed to grow in the first half of the quarter. In a strategic change certain to please my site partner, MKG and Biyombo started the half and it was Byron Mullens that sat gathering dust. Finally, as the quarter began to meander to a close, Portland discovered a way to extend the lead. Every time the Cats drained a bucket, the Blazers would come back and book a trey. The lead grew to 17 briefly but once again the clampdown defense began and as the quarter drew to a close the Cats had managed to take a tiny nibble out of the lead. After three Portland still held the stiff-arm on the Cats, 91-79.
The cats were still shooting a respectable .45% after three but they were still allowing Portland to rain them in at 60%. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it but you can’t really win games in the NBA if the other team has a much higher shooting percentage. Hmm, why does that sound familiar?
Fourth quarter; what can I say? Let’s see if I can channel Joe Piscopo instead of Dana Carvey this time. “The big story! Blazers. Fast breaks. Showboating. White guys. Dunks. The Bobcats. No offense. Diop. Starts quarter. Two points. Mullie! Starter. On bench. Three minutes. No explanation! Coach Dunlap. Alcoholic? Just asking!”
Heh-heh, not bad if I do say so myself! Of course, I’m probably one of about 5 people that remember those SNL seasons AND is a Bobcats fan, but why not go with it? When your offense depends on guards that stand at six-foot-five in platform shoes scoring over seven-foot-three defenders, you’re in some trouble. Ramon? I feel your pain. Kemba? Love to you brother. Hendo? I bleed right along with you. You guys have been asked to do a job tougher than sticking a needle halfway into a balloon without popping it. MKG, Biz, McRoberts, and Mullie are trying to help you and are there as often as coach permits. Translation; you’ve been hung out to dry too often for too long. Mullie sat behind the bench while Diop logged almost 15 ½ completely unproductive minutes. He managed 2 points, 2 rebounds and a block. Gee, that’s swell.
With the game out of reach, I’m going to use up the last couple of minutes of game clock garbage time to make an assessment. I’ve been watching Josh McRoberts for his brief tenure as a Charlotte Bobcats player and I’ve been rather impressed. He has a bit of range, he’s not afraid to dig under the boards, he dishes well, and has an all-around decent game – at least in comparison with his teammates. He fits well with Kemba and Ramon, although I’ve noticed that Gerald Henderson doesn’t seem to care much for the location of the ball when Josh passes to him. In fact, a couple of times tonight Josh dished nicely open shots to Hendo, one of which resulted in a layup, and Hendo didn’t even nod at him going back upcourt either time. What has really impressed me about McRoberts however is his defense on the perimeter and high post. He seems to have deadly speed with his hands. Multiple times per game his left hand shoots out and either knocks the ball out of bounds, or steals it, or goes from nowhere to in a shooter’s face. It’s the kind of speed you don’t often see in a man that size. It actually almost looks freakish on a guy logging in at almost 7 feet. It stands out enough that I’ve decided his minutes, play, and trademark speed have earned him an official TSP nickname. From now on, with due respect to Kurt Russell, I’ve decided that our steady-playing noob will be called “Snake” McRoberts. Comments? Howls of pain? Josh, if you’re reading this, let me know how you like it!
Oh year, Charlotte lost 122-105 but unlike the previous games on this trip, the Cats showed some fight and fire. MKG rang in a significant double-double with 17 points and 10 boards. Kemba followed suit with 17 points and a career high 11 assists. Ramon Sessions returned to earlier form to lead the Felines with 18 points and Gordon poured in 14 of his own. It’s not going to light up the league but compared to his recent sulking funk, I’ll take it. Finally, “Snake” McRoberts added 9 points and 8 boards to solidly secure himself a spot on the Bench Brigade once again. No loss feels good, but for the first time in a while I feel like our opponents left the court feeling like they’d been in a game instead of a scrimmage against the twos.
Well, it’s back home Wednesday to face an inconsistent Brooklyn team that still looks like a sure bet playoff team at this point. If the Cats bring the same fire back home that they displayed tonight, along with a bit more defensive intensity instead of the patchiness they showed tonight they have a good shot at making it a bad night for the Nets down on (yeah, you know the rest.)