Is this real life? Are the Charlotte Bobcats really 5-4? What in the hell is going on?!?!
Nine games through the season and the Bobcats are already two wins away from matching last season's win total. The team's latest win came Monday night against a Bucks team that entered play winners of three in a row.
After a John Henson bucket put the Bucks up 92-81 with 6:50 remaining in the fourth quarter it looked as if the Bobcats were done. Charlotte had started the fourth quarter 0-for-8 from the field and Monta Ellis was getting into the lane at will and finishing. If this was last season the 'Cats would have continued their ineptitude and Milwaukee would have walked out of Time Warner Cable Arena with a double-digit victory. But, if there's one thing we've learned through nine games it's that this team is no where close to the 2011-2012 squad that finished with the lowest winning percentage in NBA history.
Sure there are similar faces, but those faces we saw last season have made significant improvements. Ben touched on Kemba Walker's improvement a few days ago and Byron Mullens' game is showing progress. Both played key roles in the win over the Bucks.
Walker carried the offense through the first quarter with 10 of his 19 points coming in the first 12 minutes. Those mid-range jumpers that he failed to convert last season were falling. Mullens played a team-high 40 minutes, scored 19 points, grabbed nine boards and had a huge assist that resulted in a 3-pointer from Ramon Sessions to tie the game with 2:25 remaining. On the play, Mullens got the ball in between the three point line and the paint, the Bucks sent a double team and instead of forcing up a bad shot he found the open Sessions. It sent fans to their feet and after that it felt like it was the Bobcats game to lose.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would give Charlotte its first lead since roughly midway through the third quarter with a pair of free throws. Ellis knocked down two free throws of his own after getting fouled going to the hoop. With the game knotted up 98-98, Walker drove right where Larry Sanders would attempt to strip the ball but instead ended up fouling him. Kemba knocked down both free throws to give the 'Cats a two point edge.
Charlotte failed to extend the lead on consecutive possessions and allowed Milwaukee a shot to tie or take the lead with 19 seconds remaining. The Bucks gave the ball to Ellis and had Sanders set a pick on Jeffery Taylor; Mullens was supposed to hedge but had a mental lapse and stuck on Sanders like his life depended on it. Instead of driving to the basket Ellis chose to take a three despite shooting just 22 percent entering Monday's game. it was a good look, but seeing how much success he had going to the basket all night it was a shot the Bobcats could live with. Sessions came up with Ellis' miss and iced the game with two free throws on the other end.
The biggest discrepancy of the game was at the free throw line where the Bobcats went 27-of-30. Sessions once again proved to be a steady force and accounted for a third of Charlotte's free throws (10-for-10). He also led the team in scoring with 23 points with nine coming in the last 5:37 of the game.
It was a big win for an organization that is still trying to wash the stain of last season. Nobody expected Charlotte to be sitting above .500 nine games in the season. It may be a small sample size, but nevertheless it's quite the feat for a franchise that enjoyed seven wins a season ago.
Other thoughts and ramblings
--MKG didn't shoot particularly well from the field (4-of-13), but he got to the line and converted 7-of-8 free throws. Another positive was that he didn't commit a foul in 30 minutes. It takes time for rookies to know what they can and can't get away with and let's hope that this is MKG realizing what the refs will allow.
--It won't show on the stat sheet but Bismack Biyombo set some terrific screens tonight that freed players up to take the ball to the hoop or pull up for an open jumper. He also had a nice post move that resulted in a basic, although there were still typical Bismack moments.
--Hakim Warrick looks eerily similar to Tyrus Thomas on the court and had about the same impact as Thomas did on it last season.
--How awesome was Brendan Haywood's buzzer beater jumper to end the half?
--Ben Gordon left the game with a right knee contusion. With Gerald Henderson already out it would be a big blow to lose an offensive scoring punch off the bench. Gordon took eight shots on Monday and finished with eight points in 14 minutes.
(Ben: the Bobcats have matched their franchise record for hottest start in the first nine games at 5-4. Kinda sad, kinda cool. Take it for what you will)