The Charlotte Bobcats are tied for first in the Southeast division five games in, with a 3-2 record. The Charlotte Bobcats are tied for second in the Eastern Conference as well.
Yes, these Bobcats.
After blowing an early 16-point lead after a great first quarter -- and a 7-for-8 start from the floor (87.5 percent) in the first six minutes of the game -- Charlotte was in a battle the rest of the way.
Gerald Henderson and Jeff Taylor (who saw increased minutes with Kidd-Gilchrist's foul trouble) pretty much carried the offensive load for the first half, where they combined for 24 of Charlotte's 53 points. After that, though, we saw major contributions from Bismack Biyombo and Kidd-Gilchrist on both ends of the floor in the second half.
Biyombo had one of the best games he has had as a Bobcat. Finishing with a stat line of 8 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks in 40 minutes, Biyombo made a major impact. This was one of those performances that made me salivate over his oozing potential before he was drafted in 2011. (He may want to get that checked out by a physician - Ben)
Kidd-Gilchrist struggled to get going most of this game due to foul trouble, until he buckled-down and forced a jump-ball on Rudy Gay late in the fourth quarter, a risky move with him already having five fouls. Before that Kidd-Gilchrist was pretty successful on the offensive end with 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting.
On the defensive front, Steve Clifford's defensive transformation for this team has worked out splendidly so far. Currently, the Bobcats are seventh in points per game allowed at 95.5 (though at 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions). Playing offensive-minded teams with firepower such as Houston, Cleveland, New Orleans, New York and Toronto is impressive for Clifford's defense. It's safe to say the players are buying in, and it helps having the defensive potential he has on this roster.
Even with a poor performance from Kemba Walker, the Bobcats managed to scratch and crawl their way to victory late against Toronto. Also, continuing to do this without Al Jefferson makes it even that much more impressive.
Now, lets roll into the player grades for this game. Clifford went with an eight-man rotation tonight, so lets do a quick analysis of them.
Kemba Walker: Kemba was hard to watch tonight. Finishing with only five points on 2-for-13 shooting, Walker was not much help for the Bobcats on this night. He had a few flashes with the ball in his hand as he made some great dishes to teammates, especially one to Biyombo for a slam in the second half. Also, Walker had an impressive swat as well. Outside of those two notions though, Walker was silent most of the night. Coach Clifford and crew can throw this into the 'Bad Kemba' category. Luckily, Charlotte did not need Walker's best game tonight and managed to escape with a win.
Gerald Henderson: What a game from Henderson on the offensive end. Going 10-for-17 from the field, he finished with a season-high 23 points on the night. When the offense was stalling out at points throughout this game, Henderson managed to keep them going with consistently being aggressive. If we continue to get these kinds of performances from Henderson, we should see Charlotte heading into the playoffs (yes, I said it).
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: Kidd-Gilchrist endured foul trouble most of the game as he had the task of going up against the up-tempo style of Gay. He held his own, and even made an impact on the offensive end. Finishing with 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting is what you want to see from MKG a lot, as he is in a critical year in his offensive development. Also, I can tell Kidd-Gilchrist is going to love being a part of Clifford's defensive system. He is becoming a lockdown defender, and is allowed to be aggressive as well. Late in the game, Kidd-Gilchrist made a few critical defensive plays to swing the game in the Bobcats' favor. Jump on the Kidd-Gilchrist bandwagon before it is too late.
Josh McRoberts: Where did this performance come from, Josh? He was a bundle of energy all night and he almost posterized Jonas Valanciunas (which made me jump out of my seat). McRoberts attempted 13 shots tonight, and made five of them. He also had six rebounds, five assists, one steal and a block. The pride of Carmel, Indiana, (living just a few miles down the road from yours truly) did his job, providing a spark off the bench. McRoberts has a spot in this rotation, so lets hope he continues to have performances like this.
Bismack Biyombo: Man, these are the game where I absolutely fall in love with Biyombo. I will admit, I had a man-crush on Biyombo's abilities when he put his name into the draft. He had the defensive ability to be a game-wrecker on a nightly basis. Tonight, Bismack showed a glimpse of his full potential. In his 40 minutes of action, he finished with 8 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. Biyombo stuffed the stat sheet with authority. I really hope Biyombo continues to show glimpses of his potential with performances like this. The front office has faith in Biyombo for now -- he is definitely on a short leash -- but if he continues to provide an impact on the defensive end of the floor, then he is an asset for the team.
Jeffery Taylor: Thrown into more minutes (29) tonight due to Kidd-Gilchrist's foul trouble, Taylor did well. Even though Gay had the best of him on the defensive end, Taylor showed glimpses and held his own. He shot a few airballs on the night but he was aggressive, which always helps the confidence. Taylor can certainly do better, but I was not expecting one of his best performances when he was thrown into action earlier than I expected. If Taylor can continue to be aggressive on both ends of the floor, then I will be happy (and so will Clifford).
Cody Zeller: We got a nice game from Zeller tonight in his 18 minutes of work. Finishing 3-for-3 from the floor, he brought another spark off the bench for the Bobcats. He was a clear mismatch for Tyler Hansbrough on the night, due to his above-average speed for a big man. Also, Zeller held his ground against the gritty Hansbrough. Even though he missed both of his free throws, Zeller was impressive. I was a fan of Zeller coming out of the draft, and I thought it was a great pick from the Bobcats. If he can continue to round out his game, then he should be a nice piece to the future of the Bobcats. On this night, he showed his worth with a good offensive performance off the bench.
Ramon Sessions: Of course you do not bench Walker -- especially in a close game -- but I was surprised Sessions did not get more minutes on the night. In his 15 minutes of action tonight, Sessions finished with 8 points on 1-for-4 shooting. Another positive from Sessions on the night is that he was aggressive and got to the foul line (6-for-8 on free throws). Even on a night in which Sessions did not get favored from the somewhat analytic side of things (-3 in the +/-), he brought some energy off the bench for Charlotte as well.
Jeff Adrien: In only eight minutes on the court, Adrien brought a nice defensive presence to the floor. Adding two blocks along with his one basket on the night, you could say Adrien did his job.
Again, the Bobcats are above .500 and are tied for first in the Southeast division. Without Jefferson and a mediocre performance from their star player, they still won. This was surely an impressive win for the Eastern Conference's second-ranked team (tied for second), the Charlotte Bobcats.