It was closer than it needed to be in the end, but the Bobcats left Madison Square Garden with a fairly convincing 102-97 win over the Knicks. Kemba Walker had a very impressive game, leading the charge for the Cats, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played terrific defense to minimize the effectiveness of Carmelo Anthony.
There were two areas in particular that won the game for the Bobcats: first-half shooting, and offensive rebounding. The team shot 6-for-10 from three in the first half, including multiple knock-downs from both Walker and Jeff Taylor. They also were able to get to and convert at the rim. Following a first-quarter injury to Tyson Chandler that knocked him out of the game, many of his minutes had to be given to Andre Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire, who are, shall we say, not nearly as good defensively. Because of this and the three-point shooting causing a lot of spacing on the floor, the Bobcats shot 9-for-12 in the paint in the first half, and scored 34 points in the paint overall, compared to the Knicks' 28. Following Saturday's game against the Pelicans in which the Bobcats couldn't get anything in the lane and had 18 (!) shots blocked, it was nice to see some interior scoring.
On the boards, the Bobcats excelled in the offensive end. Of the 38 available rebounds in the New York end, the Cats grabbed 16, for a terrific 42.1 offensive rebounding percent (The Knicks had a pretty average 23.9 percent). It was nice to see everyone, not just one or two players, get in on the rebounding action, with seven players pulling down five or more rebounds. Kidd-Gilchrist led the way with eight (four offensive), which was matched by Gerald Henderson and Jeff Adrien. Four other players had multiple offensive rebounds, including Adrien, Taylor, Cody Zeller, and Anthony Tolliver, who also kept multiple possessions alive by tipping potential rebounds out toward a teammate at the perimeter.
While the Bobcats' shooting efficiency did settle down in the second half following some good halftime adjustments by Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, some players stood out throughout the game. Walker finished with a 9-for-20 line, 3-for-7 from beyond the arc; Kidd-Gilchrist finished at 5-for-7, getting to the line eight times, and Taylor was 5-for-9 (2-for-4 from three) off the bench. Free-throw shooting was a strength tonight too, getting to the line 42 times, and knocking down 34 of those shots for an 81.0 percent clip.
All in all, this game showed us glimpses of what the Bobcats can do when they play at their best, even without Al Jefferson on the floor. It's hard to see how many times, exactly, they'll be able to put up this type of performance, but having a well-rounded game such as this bodes well for the future.
Now for some individual player grades.
Josh McRoberts: McRoberts was a non-factor on offense tonight, a big shift from the first three games, when he emerged as a quality three-point shooter. McBobs went 0-for-3 from range and 0-for-4 overall, getting his only two points on a set of free throws. Picking up two fouls in the first four minutes of the game left him out for much of the first half, and he ended up not grabbing many rebounds either. McRoberts is a quality player, but he can be prone to these types of games. I'm not too concerned about him, but this was not a good entry into McRoberts' 2013-14 portfolio. Grade: C-
Bismack Biyombo: Biyombo finished with only one point, played only 19 minutes and turned the ball over four times. Yet he still played a quality game due to his strong defensive play in the post. The key to a great defense is a rim protector, and that's what Biyombo can provide at his best defensive play. He wasn't quite that tonight, but he made the most of his 19 minutes defensively, even if his offensive game was non-existent tonight. Grade:C+
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: What a game for MKG. The typical knock on him is his lack of offensive ability, but that was not at all the case tonight. As stated earlier, he knocked down his shots and got to the line, and he ended up finishing with 16 points. It gets better. Kidd-Gilchrist was all over the place on the boards, bringing down eight total, and four on the offensive end. It gets better. Matched up against Carmelo Anthony for most of the game, MKG shut him down for most of the game. Don't let Anthony's 32 overall points fool you; his 10-for-28 shooting line was the worst of any Knick not named Tim Hardaway, Jr. The man most responsible for that inefficiency? Well, besides Melo. It was Kidd-Gilchrist. He's the type of perimeter defender that any team would love to have, a poor man's Tony Allen right now, with a much higher ceiling, seeing as he turned 20 years old not even two months ago. This might have been Kidd-Gilchrist's best game of his career, and if he plays this well even only on the defensive end, he'll become a very valuable player. Grade: A
Kemba Walker: Kemba had a terrific first half, knocking down nearly all of his shots in the first half to score 16 points before halftime. It was a well-rounded game for him too, with five rebounds and six assists. His efficiency dropped a bit in the second half, and he might have tried to do too much in the fourth quarter, but he always took the shot clock to its limit before finding an open look, even in one-on-one and iso plays, and he always got off a good shot or found a teammate for an open look. He also hit what should have been the dagger around the 50-second mark for two of his 25 points. (ed. I would also note that Kemba suffered a shoulder contusion midway through the third quarter. He seemed to be markedly affected by it, missing every shot after the injury save for that final one. - Ben).Grade: A-
Gerald Henderson: Henderson continued his early trend of struggling with his shooting, but he did get to the line and grabbed a lot of rebounds, so the game wasn't a total loss for him on the scoring front. He gave his usual effort on defense that resulted in typically above-average play, and helped keep New York's three-point shooting below the 30 percent mark. Grade: B-
Cody Zeller: After struggling against Tyson Chandler, Zeller played much better in the second half, after being taken out early due to picking up three fouls in the first quarter. He only scored 7 points on 2-for-3 shooting, but knocked down a jumper from 20-foot range and made a smooth move to the bucket to score with his left hand. He contributed to the good rebounding with five in his 18 minutes, and played solid defense when he wasn't being over-matched by someone stronger than him. It was a nice glimpse of Zeller's potential, and he finally looked settled into the professional game. Grade: B-
Anthony Tolliver: Tolliver shot only threes in tonight's game, which ended up okay because he made two of his four attempts. He put up some nice rebounding numbers, but, more to the point, did so many little things right. Tipping out rebounds, providing nice movement on off-ball offense, and solid, non-flashy defense. It was a good game for Tolliver. Grade: B
Jeff Adrien: Adrien looked like he truly fit in as a member of an NBA team. Despite only going 1-for-1 from the floor, Adrien was far from a hindrance offensively. He ran plays and boxed out well, and he got offensive (and defensive) boards very well. He looked strong on defense too, playing well against over-sized opponents. This is the type of game the Bobcats need from their deeper bench players, especially when Jefferson doesn't play. Grade: B
Ramon Sessions: Sessions was 1-for-9 from the floor, and still ended up with 10 points overall due to nine free throw attempts. He finished with 4 assists in 22 minutes, but this wasn't the strongest game for Sessions. When Walker had to leave during the third and fourth quarters during an injury scare, Sessions had to run the offense full-time, and he struggled in that role. It's one we've seen him occupy well before, so there's no concern going forward, but he played poorly tonight. Grade: C-
Jeffery Taylor: Taylor played very up-and-down tonight, shooting 5-for-9 from the floor and 2-for-4 from three for 13 total points, but not offering much on the boards or on defense. Tonight, he was resigned to a catch-and-shoot role, and it worked for most of the game, but he was limited to that. He turned the ball over twice, one at a very inopportune time that led to a New York bucket before being replaced by Kidd-Gilchrist. Had he played a little better on the other end, it could have been a great game for Taylor, but the strength of his shooting was ultimately a net positive for the team. Grade: B-