Tonight's game recap comes from Tucker Warner (aka @twarner50 on Twitter). He writes at his own blog at First Tee Mulligan and hosts an internet sports talk show called The Sidelines. He is also a Bobcats fan, so please give him a hearty welcome.
If I could sum up this game in one word, it would have to be "censored." It's pretty awful that the 2011-12 Bobcats season has come to be defined by games like this: Gerald Henderson looks like a solid player, Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo show promise, the game looks competitive for a while, and then everything implodes. What's worse is that those are the good nights.
Against the Cavaliers, the Bobcats got off to a competitive start. The first quarter closed on a Cavs run, putting them up by eight, but in the second quarter, Kemba helped get Charlotte back in the game, scoring 16 points on 8 shots, including two threes and a variety of layups. The third looked more like the second, in that the Bobcats, with Walker sitting out the entire quarter, were able to take the lead late in the period, and were only down one at the late break.
And that's when everything was ruined.
After D.J. White's first bucket of the game kicked off the fourth, Cleveland immediately went on a 10-0 run in about two and a half minutes. Then Kemba hit a mid-range jumper. Then the Bobcats didn't hit another field goal for almost five minutes. Normally, unless your defense is performing at an otherworldly level, it's really going to hurt your team when that happens.
Ultimately, though, the Bobcats' offense was not what killed them, as they shot .468 from the floor, and a subpar, but not damning, .273 from three. What did hurt them was their defense (and their rebounding, to a lesser extent). From the start, pretty much every player seemed to show a lack of defensive awareness, a lack of defensive ability, or, in Byron Mullens's case, both. The team had problems switching assignments, particularly on off-ball screens, and often either left a shooter open (which Anthony Parker often took advantage of, hitting 4-6 from three) or allowing the ballhandler a path for a drive or pass. Mullens, on the other hand, has struggled with defense all year, and the man he was guarding- Antawn Jamison in particular- had no problem finding space against him. Sometimes, Mullens is able to compensate for his defensive lapses by having a productive game either on the offensive end or on the boards, and he did neither tonight, grabbing a "meh" 5 rebounds and putting up zero points.
So, with only a few exceptions, it was a usual Bobcats game. Let's get to some individual player grades.
Kemba Walker: I want to start off on a high note by saying that Kemba's second quarter was probably the single best quarter played by a Bobcat this year. As mentioned earlier, he was incredibly efficient on offense, scoring exactly two points per field goal attempt, and he was also strong on defense. One sequence that was particularly impressive came on two consecutive Cleveland possessions late in the second quarter, in which he read a pass to the wing that resulted in a steal and transition layup, and the next time down the court, tipped away an interior pass and forced a shot clock violation. I believe that Kemba can be a star in the NBA, even though he has only shown brief flashes of his potential so far. Tonight's game was the clearest look we've received of Walker's ability. Grade: A
Gerald Henderson: Henderson did Henderson things. He put up 21 points on 9-14 shooting, including 3-3 from the stripe, played solid defense, did his job on off-ball offense, and rebounded quite well for a two-guard. There's not too much to pick apart about Hendo this game; he played good basketball, and was about as productive as usual. Grade: B+
Bismack Biyombo: The criticism of Biyombo all year has been his offensive rawness, but that was not seen tonight, as he shot 4-6 from the field. This efficiency, along with glimpses of his improving post game, is a sign that Biyombo is progressing as an offensive big in the NBA. He pulled down a game-high 8 rebounds and blocked 3 shots, including one on weak-side help off a pick-and-roll that actually did make me jump out of my seat (it's been a long year. Let me be). Grade: B
DJ Augustin: Augustin had a potent game on offense, doling out 11 assists and shooting a nice 6-14 from the floor. That being said, he didn't appear to be helping on the defensive end, and had trouble with screens and help defense. Grade: B-
Tyrus Thomas: Though he's struggled all year, Thomas would have helped the Bobcats considerably tonight. He played good interior defense, notably on spread plays for bigs, and had a good game on the boards, grabbing 5 in 12 minutes, and both of these . The reason why he would have helped, rather than actually helping, is that he only played 12 minutes due to early foul trouble, getting three in his first 6 minutes. That being said, three total fouls- what he finished the game with- should not be enough to keep a productive player out for that long. I have to question Paul Silas's decision-making in that regard, because I cannot understand why Mullens played more than twice the minutes Thomas did. Grade: B-
Derrick Brown: Brown had another Patented Derrick Brown game: plays about half the minutes and doesn't do anything particularly impressive or help the team considerably, but also doesn't do anything that can be pointed at as being one of the primary reasons the team lost. In short: he was there. Grade: C
Matt Carroll: Carroll played 7 minutes, grabbed a rebound, and missed two shots. Similar to Brown, Carroll was there. Just not as often. Grade: C
DJ White: White did not play well. Offensively, as usual, he was fine, shooting 3-6. However, he did not rebound (2 in 21 minutes) and did not play good defense. Interior defense was a big problem for the Bobcats tonight, and White was a part of the reason why that was a problem. I don't want to keep bringing up the same point, but: the screens and pick-and-rolls. Grade: D
Corey Maggette: Oh, Corey. Because of Maggette's shooting woes tonight (1-7), I imagine that, in lieu of a typical shot chart, it would be more interesting to see a chart of where each Bobcat shot hit the backboard. Maggette's shots ended up in all different directions, hitting the side or bottom of the backboard on multiple shots, and one time hit backboard but missed the rim by about two feet. He played well-below-average defense too. Grade: "lolwat."
Byron Mullens: As I said earlier, Mullens is simply a bad defensive player. He is not skilled at it, nor does he possess a strong defensive IQ to compensate. The man he was defending seemed to be able to create space or an open shot at will. Sometimes, Mullens is able to compensate by having a solid rebounding night or putting up points on offense. Again, this was not one of those nights, as he missed every shot, and only grabbed five rebounds. I don't want to harp on Mullens on the cause of all of the Bobcats problems, because he is not, but he was the worst player on the court tonight. Grade: Sigh.
Cory Higgins: Cory Higgins did not play tonight. Grade: A+