New Year's Day basketball is always an interesting thing because you never really know what you are going to get. The game may very well wind up being watchable or you can get the slop du jour, especially with an earlier game. You start to pay attention to things like the city they spent New Year's Eve in and hope that they play a little later. For example, have they had the last two days off and play the Heat or Pelicans at 1pm on New Year's Day? Does that worry you as much as a team spending New Year's Eve in, say, Oklahoma City and playing at 6pm? Probably not. Now, I'm not saying anything; I'm just saying there seems to be a correlation between earlier New Year's Day start times and a hard-to-watch game.
Of course, the Bobcats had been in Los Angeles, but they didn't tipoff until 7:30pm PST and the game was a watchable, mostly competitive affair.
It was the Bobcats backcourt that got the team off to a good start. Kemba Walker got to the line and Gerald Henderson worked to stretch the floor as well. Even Al Jefferson and Bismack Biyombo got into the action off of the bench and all starters excluding Josh McRoberts finished the first quarter with at least five points.
However, it was McRoberts who continued to get the momentum rolling into the second quarter with a gimme-jumper and a three a few moments later to give the Bobcats a 35-33 lead early. The Bobcats would later use an 8-0 run over a two-minute stretch in the middle of the quarter to force a timeout by the Clippers. Both teams would finish the half locked at 56, but the Bobcats had used their edge in rebounding, points in the paint and three point efficiency to stay competitive.
Jefferson finished the half with 10 points and seven rebounds. The Clippers were led by Chris Paul who finished with 17 points and seven assists to pace Los Angeles.
To keep up with the Clippers, the Bobcats would to need to remain focused for the rest of the game, unlike what they showed until late in the second quarter. With that being said, it was former Bobcat Jared Dudley who hit a quick three and long two to give the Clippers a five-point lead. From that point on, the Clippers never really looked back. Walker would later get a couple of buckets and an assist, but the Bobcats couldn't get the necessary stops to fully stop the bleeding. Paul didn't need to score and found ways to get players like Dudley involved who had a big quarter from long range on his way to making seven treys on the night.
In the unenviable position of being down 12 to the Clippers on the road, the Bobcats would to need to continue to do the things that kept them in the game early. Dudley had other ideas, yet again hitting another spirit-breaking three to start the quarter. Cody Zeller really struggled in this stretch (More on this developing story later!) not only fouling ex-Bobcat Ryan Hollins on a layup but then having him convert the and-one opportunity at the line. Then on the other end, Zeller rifled a bad pass following an offensive rebound, and the Bobcats still found themselves down by 16 nearing the midway point of the fourth. Long story short, the Bobcats offense would sputter, failing to score more than six points from 8:12 until Zeller made two free throws with 37 seconds to go.
Jefferson led the Bobcats with 14 points and 12 rebounds, but Griffin carried the Clippers offense, finishing with 31 points and 12 rebounds. The Bobcats were out-rebounded 28-17 in the second half and also conceded their edge in points in the paint, too. Essentially everything the Bobcats used to hang with the Clippers in the first half, they got away from in the second. Clearly they did or they wouldn't have finished with just 29 second half points.
The Bobcats turn around and run it back tomorrow in Portland.
Oh, yeah, about Zeller. I tweeted during the game that on offense he looks like someone wandering around Best Buy waiting for someone to ask him if he's finding everything okay. He looks unsure and that causes problems at times. For instance, in the lane with Chris Paul driving to the rim, Zeller neither steps up to contest the shot nor gets completely out of the way and gets called for a soft foul that Paul winds up converting for a three point play. It's like he's overthinking out there. This isn't to say how he'll be as a player in a month, a year or three years, but where he is today. He has some more work to do and would be great if we could get shades of the player we saw at summer league.