The Charlotte Bobcats stumbled out to an 8-2 deficit in Wednesday night's game against the Toronto Raptors in Charlotte, didn't take their first lead until a Ben Gordon (14 points, 4 assists, 2 blocks!) jumper with 9:37 remaining in the second quarter, gave Toronto four looks at a game-winning basket and still managed to win their fifth game in six tries 98-97 to improve to 6-4 on the season.
It's almost cliché at this point to say this team would have lost this game last season but that doesn't make it any less true. The Raptors played well tonight shooting 46% from the field and certainly played well enough to win.
Toronto jumped out to that early lead behind the strong play from Andrea Bargnani (25 points) and his eight first quarter points. He had plenty of help tonight as DeMar DeRozan (14 points), Kyle Lowry (21 points, 8 assists) and an impressive Jonas Valanciunas (16 points, 10 rebounds) seemed to hit a shot every time the Bobcats made a push. Terrence Ross provided 11 points off the bench and those four players got the Raptors back after the Cats led by as many as 10 in the fourth.
Charlotte fell behind by three points with just over a minute left remaining in the game when Kemba Walker (19 points, 7 assists, 3 blocks!) hit a driving layup out of a 20 second timeout and was fouled. Walker converted on the free throw to knot the score at 96 when DeRozan was fouled on the other end but only hit one of two.
It was then Ramon Sessions' (14 points, 6 assists) turn to go to work. The veteran leader kept right on delivering getting the luscious shooter's bounce and then some to put the Bobcats up by one with just 28 seconds left in the game.
This game was a Wednesday night NBA slugfest. The crowd wasn't particularly rowdy until the second half, but that's not to say it wasn't good. (There was an "M-V-P" chant for Byron Mullens for crying out loud.) It's the night before Thanksgiving in downtown Charlotte, so when you factor that in it was practically game seven of the Finals. But the game had sluggish feel to it from the start, at least for the Bobcats.
Charlotte shot 36% from the field in the first quarter, but still managed to score 22 points. Toronto outplayed the Bobcats in the first half, but needed a last second shot from Lowry to tie the game at intermission. At the end of the game the rebounds were almost even (Toronto 37, Charlotte 36), the turnovers were as well (Toronto 14, Charlotte 12) and the scoring margin in each quarter was never more than three. The Bobcats made up a lot of ground at the free throw line hitting 23-28. The Raptors still hit 14-20.
The Bobcats got a huge lift from the bench tonight. Sessions' contribution is almost expected at this point and he did not falter. As soon as he entered the game in the first quarter he drove to the basket for a five-foot score. It can't be said enough (because we say it all the time) but Sessions is such a massive improvement from D.J. Augustin. Sessions' confidence is infectious and what's even better is that it rubs off on other players. He's not quite the prototypical go-to guy, but for this team he's certainly filling that role extremely well right now. Although he is still taking a lot of shots to get those points, 19 tonight.
Between Sessions, Gordon, and Walker the Bobcats have some sort of clutch concoction working. Gordon wasn't even expected to play but was warming up on the sidelines during the first quarter. He gave the Cats exactly what is needed and expected of him. He was only 4-11 from the field, but those four felt big every time, and you know that's what your going to get from him.
Byron Mullens (10 points, eight rebounds) hit just as many shots, but took 14 and missed all five of his three-point attempts. Mullens was having success down low tonight (2-2 in the paint) and the Bobcats' guards did a good job of getting him the ball in position to work. All of his makes came from within 16 feet and he still took too many quick, deep jumpers that did not connect.
It is very possible Mullens will never be a good defender, that he'll be a solid offensive player who just contributes that way. He certainly won't be alone in the regard. It's fair to give him another full season because he left college after one year, was buried on the bench in Oklahoma City, and then spent last year in Charlotte's version of the island from LOST. You can see the progress he's made in just this last year so there is reason to be optimistic.
Hey, it wasn't Mullens' best game but it wasn't Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's best either and he manage to shoot an efficient 4-7 from the field for 14 points and add three boards. Jeff Taylor played ridiculously solid for a rookie, even for a young veteran to be honest. Taylor scored 11 points on 4-8 shooting and grabbed six boards.
But tonight was sneaky highlighted by the play of Bismack Biyombo. Yes, he still had the mistakes and effort plays that went negative. But Biyombo played one of his better games as a pro tonight in extended minutes making five of six shots from the field (5-6!) for 11 points, grabbing eight rebounds, blocking two shots and destroying one of two free throws from the line.
Biyombo played 26 minutes tonight. He still gets pushed out of position way too much down low, doesn't establish his position early enough when preparing to rebound, and is usually in too much of a hurry to gather himself when catching the ball to take advantage of his powerful athleticism. But he made...I'll just say it...his greatest assist in his NBA career tonight dishing off to Gordon in the second half for a driving layup.
He was also key in the last 28-second flurry when Toronto got four looks at a win. He blocked DeRozan's layup with 14 second left. MKG then defended on Bargnani's failed last second attempt to win the game and the Bobcats held on.
Charlotte didn't play it's best tonight but managed to not let the game get away, take control, almost let it get away, and then finally wrestle it away from Toronto. The Bobcats now face the Atlanta Hawks on Friday with a chance to equal their win total from last year in the fist month of the season, and gain sole possession of second place in the Southeast Division. So good luck getting your head to not explode. The sample size is still relatively small, but that caveat won't fly for too much longer. This team is playing well, it is playing hard, and at the very least it is fun to watch. For that, we can all be thankful.