There is always a lot of talk this time of year about players hitting the wall, especially rookies. And even in a shortened season you expect to see guys starting to get exhausted, lose their legs and just wanting the season to be over. Well that's kind of how I felt going into tonight's game. I had all the symptoms, even the tired legs but I did go running today so that could explain it.
If you've watched as many Bobcats professional basketball games as we (and I feel comfortable enough to say that if you're reading this you've probably watched your fair share) have this year then hitting a wall is all but a given. At times this team has been fun to watch. The other 95% of the time it's been work, hard work to stay engaged.
So the prospect of watching a short-handed Bobcats team (without Corey Maggette, D.J. Augustin, and Reggie Williams) face a Milwaukee Bucks squad fighting for the playoffs at home wasn't entirely appealing. But just when you think you have this team figured out it surprises you. That's not really true, we've pretty much figured this team out. But when guys play as well as they're capable of, the Bobcats can play entertaining ball. That's what they did tonight in a gutty 95-90 loss to the Bucks.
The Bobcats started off as they often do by firing away from the outside, this did not go well. But, after the first couple of minutes Charlotte actually starting cutting, moving with a purpose and making smart passes, this went incredibly well. Even Byron Mullens, who has shown a nice touch on his outside jumper but rarely thinks about anything else once he sees the ball coming his way, made a great (and correct) pass to a slicing Gerald Henderson who got fouled and went to the line.
Mullens, had the game of his life on offense tonight and even had a big night on the boards as he tallied a career high 31 points. Often times Mullens will hit a couple jumpers in a row and set up shop outside all night. This was a worry when he got hot early but he kept doing a really good job of making the right basketball play most of the time. He passed up a good shot for a better shot for a wide-open Henderson, and this is when he was really going. It was the right play and Henderson converted.
The big man from Ohio State was on fire from all over the place, hitting his usual array of outside jumpers and, in the second half especially, crashing the boards for buckets down low. Defense, unfortunately is still an issue for Mullens, there isn’t any. At one point he let three consecutive Bucks drive past him in the lane. Other times he just doesn’t move his feet. Look, it’s not his strong suit and I don’t really know why but he still gets his head turned, loses his man and forgets to box out…sometimes on the same play.
But he absolutely kept the Bobcats in this game tonight in the second quarter. Bismack Biyombo had a great game and started off very well before heading to the locker room for a brief look. He was fine but Eduardo Najera was not. He took a sharp Jon Brockman elbow to the forehead and suffered a broken frontal lobe according to Bobcats PR. Certainly a scary situation, we all hope Najera is ok.
This left the Bobcats with just nine players available and only five viable offensive options. The bench production offensively consisted of two D.J. White points. The starters scored the other 88 points, and they all played very well.
The Bobcats led after the first quarter 30-28. After scoring 30 points in the first you’d think the patented second quarter drop off was a sure thing, but it never came thanks to Mullens (10 second quarter points) and Kemba Walker who added eight.
Walker had a nice game but struggled with the length of Brandon Jennings and was forced into a few bad turnovers. He had four on the night (Jennings had not a one), but played well without hardly any help at the point. He finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists forced into 41 minutes of work.
The Bucks jumped out to a 14-point lead in the third that prompted a Paul Silas timeout. This looked to be the end of the Bobcats' valiant effort on the night. They were due for a fade offensively and based on much of the season, it was about to come. But it didn’t. The Bobcats went on a freaking run, and it was one of the most glorious ten-point runs you’ll ever see, certainly this season.
I don’t recall seeing a stretch like it (obvious overstatement); all of a sudden the Bobcats were forcing turnovers and getting easy baskets. After firing from the outside at the end of broken offensive sets, the Bobcats got buckets in the paint that were either breakaways or barely contested. Biyombo…Bismack Biyombo…got a steal at half court and took it the length for a dunk. That’s the type of stuff that went down tonight.
The only problem was for most of the night Charlotte couldn’t stop Milwaukee. But thanks to that stretch and another good one in fourth the Milwaukee lead never got larger than ten the rest of the way. And in crunch time, Charlotte actually did what it should have done and drove to the basket. But the bounces were not going the Bobcats’ way. Walker made some great moves to get in the lane but couldn’t get a couple rolls or any calls.
Mullens and Biyombo did a good job on the boards (14 each) as Charlotte outrebounded its host 16-8 in the fourth and 57-45 for the game. But when Milwaukee needed it Jennings and Monte Ellis each came through with a basket to inch the lead out just enough. And the last scrum for a loose ball somehow ended up in the hands of Ersan Ilyasova who threw up some garbage for a hoop plus the harm. That bucket pushed the lead out to five with just over 30 seconds to go and pretty much sealed the game.
All five Bobcat starters scored in double figures, Biyombo and Mullens both had double-doubles with Biyombo scoring 14 points. He’s got to learn to be strong at all times with the ball, but nights like tonight really show what he can be. He’s even starting to do some nice things on the block. Derrick Brown totalled 11 points and nine boards as well.
Henderson didn’t have a breakout night by any means. He struggled with his jumper but was steady (14 points and seven rebounds) after a slow start. Ellis was able to get 25 tonight. But if Ellis is breathing he’s scoring and if has to take 21 shots to get his 25 then you can probably live with that.
Henderson, Mullens and Walker all played more than 40 minutes. Might we see the young group of Mullens, Walker, Henderson and Biyombo (and a solid Brown) continue to play more down the stretch? I don’t really see why not. They’ll be gassed tomorrow night no doubt, but if you’re a Bobcats fan you want to see an entertaining, competitive game with some fight. That’s what you got tonight and that’s all you can ask for, especially short-handed. There was no wall for those young guys tonight, and they may have even pushed mine back a few weeks too.