I wasn't exactly sure when the Bobcats would get to the point where they could legitimately outclass lesser opponents, but I didn't expect it to be this year. Of course, the Milwaukee Bucks aren't going to beat many teams this year, especially without Larry Sanders and Caron Butler, but that doesn't necessarily mean a middling (which, hey, is an improvement over previous seasons) Bobcats team would thoroughly blow them out. And although the score would come within ten points at times, the Bobcats were never in danger of squandering the lead in the second half.
That outclassing (Outclassment? Outclassdom? Whatever.) took place at a true team level in the first half. This doesn't necessarily mean that the Bobcats played all that well, as they turned the ball over far too much -- eighteen times on the game, for seventeen Milwaukee points -- but that the Bucks really, REALLY struggled on offense. At one point midway through the second quarter, the Bucks were shooting 32.6 percent from the floor to the Bobcats' mark of 58.1 percent. Bismack Biyombo was absolutely ridiculous off the bench in the first 24, picking up twelve rebounds in fourteen minutes, making all three of his field goal attempts and knocking down one of two free throws. The bench unit, in particular, played very well, with Ramon Sessions also going 3-for-3 from the floor as he, Biyombo and Cody Zeller all reached +/- values over +12 in the first half.
The two stars of the game for Charlotte, meanwhile, were likely Gerald Henderson and Al Jefferson. Henderson scored 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting, including adding one of the Bobcats' three total three-pointers, and his floor spacing was essential during a game when the perimeter shooters, especially Kemba Walker and Jeffery Taylor, struggled from range. Henderson added six rebounds and three assists, which helped make up for his five turnovers. It wasn't a great game for anyone in the Bobcats backcourt, in large part due to these turnover issues (Walker had six and Ben Gordon accounted for two in his seventeen minutes), but Henderson was the best perimeter player tonight.
In the frontcourt, Al Jefferson took over the game in the second half, scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds (six offensive). He struggled early on, only playing eight minutes in the first half and only contributing four of his 23 total points before the break, while not pulling down a single rebound. It was nice to see Jefferson play like a true star when the team needed it the most, as most of what was creating the team's success in the first half was not working quite as well in the second. While he has played well in limited games so far, Jefferson had not yet had the type of game that lived up to the high expectations placed on him. Until tonight.
I won't do my usual player grades tonight, because I don't have enough to say about each player without repeating myself for many of them, and because the struggles the Bobcats had were indicative of their play as a team, rather than individual mistakes. They couldn't hit a three, shooting 3-15 from behind the arc, they turned the ball over far too often, and the offense, especially the backcourt, struggled to hit shots in the second half. The absence of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (plantar fasciitis) and Anthony Tolliver (coach's decision, presumably) definitely hurt things, given that they have played well within their roles to this point (even if Tolliver should probably just stop shooting the ball), but it's not as if they would have improved the team that much. Tonight's game essentially came down to the Bucks just playing very poorly on the offensive end.
It's no secret that the Bucks are one of the very worst teams in the NBA in a season when many teams aren't trying to be good, but shooting just 33.3 percent on field goals isn't going to endear yourself to anyone, Milwaukee. Khris Middleton shot 3-for-9, O.J. Mayo went 2-for-11, and Ersan Ilyasova, bless his heart, missed all six of his shots. By the fourth quarter, they finally got the right idea and began to shoot from inside the lane, but the vast majority of their shots in the first three periods came from range, which surely exacerbated their shooting woes, as they finished with only 26 points in the paint. A healthy Kidd-Gilchrist might not have added many more points on the Bobcats' end, but he might have subtracted even more from the Milwaukee side.
It's important to note that, despite the margin, this wasn't really a good game for the Bobcats. They struggled too much in too many areas for me to describe the game as a positive going forward, outside of the addition to the win column. The Bucks were just completely inferior, and, in many ways, they played like it. That being said, it's not all that bad if the Bobcats have one of their bad games against a weak opponent, and still thoroughly dismiss them. Looking forward, they'll make tonight's struggles a point of emphasis in upcoming games, which could definitely help the team from here on.