The Bobcats have faced two teams slated for playoff spots in their two games since Kemba Walker was diagnosed with a sprained ankle and placed in a walking boot. And yet, without their starting point guard and Al Jefferson proclaimed "heart and soul" of the team, the Bobcats have won both of those games.
This time it was against a much more daunting opponent in the Los Angeles Clippers, even without the point guard that can single-handedly wreck defenses as a scorer or passer in Chris Paul. Despite strong performances from their two other top scorers (Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford), Los Angeles fell beneath Charlotte's strong defense and second-half adjustments, 95-91.
As I said above, the second half was where the Bobcats took victory from the Clippers, but the first half set them up with the chance to make the necessary adjustments to reclaim the lead. They finished the half down one but had some small leads grow in the middle of each quarter in strong strides as the Clippers defense struggled to hold Charlotte to 50 percent shooting, well above the team's usual numbers.
Offensively, the Bobcats focused on getting the ball to Al Jefferson, who made about as many shots as he missed, which isn't the most efficient game you can have, but it's far from the opposite end of that spectrum. Charlotte also had some nice scoring from the rest of the team with Josh McRoberts' 3-for-3 first half shooting and Gerald Henderson's 9 points. Some other Bobcats chipped in for some minor first-half scoring, which helped build leads when the Clippers brought in reserves and keep Charlotte in the game when LA's starters returned.
Blake Griffin burned Josh McRoberts for much of the night with his aggression with the ball in the post and recognition of space to work in off the ball. Griffin's talent is demonstratively better than he gets credit for from the masses, who say he's got no post moves. For a guy who some say has no post moves, Griffin can score in the post quite well and this isn't even including his passing.
But the real weakness for the Bobcats in the first half was their defense of the rest of the Clippers. Assistant coach Patrick Ewing said at halftime that the team can deal with Griffin getting the points he gets, but holding the rest of the team's scoring down should be a priority. It wasn't effectively dealt with in the first half, which culminated in the tiny Clippers lead. J.J. Redick had 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting in the first half. Jamal Crawford had 11 points on seven shots.
This would not be the case in the second half.
The strategic adjustments would prove to be the difference between Charlotte's offense suffering serious regression to the mean amid a small collapse or their defense tightening up focus on secondary scoring threats en route to a close game to give them a shot at victory.
To Steve Clifford and the Bobcats' credit, the latter is exactly what they did. Regression of course occurred, but the team managed it extremely well.
The Bobcats shut down the Clippers' secondary scorers. And tertiary, etc etc. The only two Clippers to have more points in the second half than the first were Jared Dudley and Ryan Hollins, who combined for seven points the entire game. Blake Griffin still got his but to a marginally lesser degree, but the main thing was that no one else really shot well for Los Angeles. Redick made two of his six second-half shots and Crawford went 4-for-14.
Meanwhile, the Bobcats didn't exactly reap profits on the back of a ruthless offense. The defense was their saving grace against the Clippers' starters, permitting the offense to brave rough shooting stretches from Ramon Sessions, Al Jefferson or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Thankfully, the Bobcats had the advantage of drawing fouls over the Clippers, who got only had nine attempts (six from Griffin and three from Crawford).
Charlotte's defense proved to be the triumphant hero this game, mostly because of the last few minutes. The Clippers shot 39 percent in the second half and went 2-for-8 in the last two and a half minutes with a turnover.
The Bobcats slipped away from Los Angeles with a slight lead during the Clippers' disastrous frontcourt rotations consisting of Ryan Hollins and Byron Mullens. When the Clippers returned their starters back to the floor, they took Charlotte's lead from six points to one within a couple minutes and eventually tied it with a minute left.
But Charlotte's offense could not able to execute late. The defense was able to hold the Clippers, however, forcing rough shots for Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin in the paint with the game on the line.
With 29 seconds left, the Bobcats let Ramon Sessions take the ball to the pain from the top of the key on a driving floater the entirety of the Clippers' interior defense. The shot fell a few inches short and about a foot off target to the right, but Gerald Henderson plucked the ball from the air without difficulty as his defender left him to challenge Sessions' shot. A second later, Henderson flushed the ball through with a reverse dunk to give the Bobcats a slight two-point lead.
The defense held on the following possession as Jamal Crawford was forced into a wild, flailing, falling layup. The ensuing putback attempt from Blake Griffin surprisingly missed and Josh McRoberts snatched the defensive rebound and received a foul to send him to the free-throw line. His free throws would put the Bobcats up four, enough to ensure the victory as time ran out on the next couple of meaningless plays.
Highlights & stuff
- The Bobcats' quintessential inbounds play worked again. Usually run for Gerald Henderson, this time they ran it for Chris Douglas-Roberts to finish the third quarter as time ran out. The way it goes is this: The Bobcats are inbounding on the opponents' baseline. Two big men are placed just far enough out to ensure their defenders are inside them towards the baseline. The guard runs in front of the screen between the big men and the baseline, slightly drawing the defenders' attention. The big men set double-screens in front of the inbounder to impede the paths of the guard's defender, as well as the opposing power forward and center. As the guard curls around the screens towards the lane, the defense often is too confused to adjust in time to contest the inbounds pass or the guard's cut. Chris Douglas-Roberts executed this perfectly in the first time I've seen it from him, catching the inbounds pass and hitting the alley-oop floater.
Usually it's Gerald Henderson, but even with Douglas-Roberts, it was run just as well. It's a terrific combination of poise, passing and exceptional timing.
- The top play of the game was easily Jannero Pargo taking Hedo Turkoglu off the dribble with a crossover and hitting the jump shot over him.
- Byron Mullens, 0-for-2, 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 blocks, 0 everything. Schadenfreude? Who, me?
- Ramon Sessions gets a lot of criticism for being an unimaginative playmaker, but he had some pretty nice passes and court vision tonight. I wonder how much of this is because he's in a different role from being the 6th man microwave. He also had some nice turnovers. The good outweighed the bad, I think, but fair is fair.
- Zeller once again had some difficulty, though you can't blame him against Blake Griffin. Against pretty much anyone else on the Clippers? Yeah. His defense was OK, though he fouled a bit too much because of Griffin's physicality. Still, Rick Bonnell's profile on his struggles ring true.