Oh so close. The highlight reel will end with Boris Diaw attempting a three over Kurt Thomas as time expired in the fourth quarter, for all the marbles. However, the ball bounced off the rim, and San Antonio escaped Charlotte with an 86-84 win.
In my game preview, I thought shutting down both Duncan and Manu would be the Bobcats' only chance at winning, but they did one better. Duncan was "held" to 17/11 in 36 minutes, so he was hardly unstoppable. Ginobili had a positively awful game trying to deal with Gerald and Raja at both ends of the floor. He ended up with 10 points in 28 minutes, but had only 1 assist and ended up sitting a good chunk of time until the end game with four fouls. I say they did one better because Tony Parker also struggled, going for 13/10, but he made up a lot of ground lost on the floor by getting 7 of those points at the free throw line. In all, the Spurs shot only 41% from the field.
For the Bobcats, Raja Bell was the clear star of the game. He knocked down 25 points, including a perfect 11-11 from the free throw line, and grabbed 6 rebounds. More important, though, he shared Manu duty, helping keep him contained, and gave Roger Mason, Jr., plenty of trouble when the Spurs had the ball, but also helped put him in foul trouble.
I've been down on Bell because his offensive production was on a downward trend and there were reports that his defensive work was showing cracks. His offense is still wanting, in sum, but it might be time to acknowledge that his defense is still top notch.
Diaw had a difficult assignment, to guard the big man not named Tim Duncan, but he did an admirable job. On offense, he only had 3 assists, a low number for him, but he picked up the production elsewhere with 16 points and 13(!) rebounds. Granted, the opposing big men he faced weren't exactly the highest quality, but he certainly capitalized.
Gerald had the most disappointing game among the starters, with only 9 points and 6 rebounds on 3-12 shooting in 40 minutes. However, as noted above, he played exceptional defense on Manu and Michael Finley, whose basketball corpse finished with a miserable 3 points in 25 minutes on 1-9 shooting.
The end game was botched pretty badly, and we should all have seen it as it happened. It was correct to take the ball back down the floor immediately after Emeka blocked Duncan's attempt. However, for some reason, the Bobcats trust Felton with the ball in crunch time, even though they're probably better off the ball in Diaw's or Gerald's hands. This game was no exception. Felton drove the lane at the end and Duncan returned the favor, swatting it back out.
This is what people talk about when they say teams need "a go-to guy". But really, the best option is probably just the best scorer, period. Raymond is not that guy. Period. Current year stats don't always reflect the player's true talents, but Raymond's basically performing as he always has. Emeka gets so many of his points off putbacks, he shouldn't really be considered a crunch time option. Gerald is the best scorer among the top five, generally. Diaw is probably the next best scorer, but is more versatile than Gerald. If you need a three, you've gotta get the ball to Raja. When healthy, even Augustin is a better option to shoot than Felton.
NAME -- FG% -- 3P%
Felton -- .402 -- .302
Gerald -- .466 -- .250
Diaw -- .512 -- .426
Bell -- .421 -- .440
Augustin -- .398 -- .392
In other words, the Bobcats use their fifth best option when the game is in the balance. Good times.