I've been a Bobcats fan since the franchise started in 2004, and I became a committed fan before the 2009-10 season. That is to say, I've been watching this team for as long as they've been around, and I've been following the team very closely for almost five years now.
This is relevant because, as I write this, I cannot remember a former Bobcats starter returning to Charlotte to have the type of game that D.J. Augustin had for the Chicago Bulls tonight, dropping 28 points on 9-for-19 shooting (including 6-for-12 from three), and putting up 15 of those points in the fourth quarter to squelch a potential Bobcats comeback. He also added three assists and two steals to round out what was a pretty dominant performance in his fourth career game in Charlotte as an opponent. In his first three away games at Time Warner Cable Arena, Augustin combined for 12 points. It was that type of night.
In fact, just to see how rare this type of event is for this team, the list of former Bobcats who scored even twenty points when returning to Charlotte for the opposing side is pretty short: Raymond Felton in his first year with the Knicks. Jason Richardson with Philadelphia last season. And, unless I'm overlooking someone else, that's the entire list. So forgive me for feeling a little historical tonight, with a team that doesn't have a whole lot of history. Just like (seemingly) every other team, the Bobcats have now had a former star torch them when returning to the city that drafted him. Now we're just like everyone else. My fandom feels validated, and the team that got me to love the NBA is slightly more legitimized.
I promise this isn't facetious; One of the only times I get angry with mainstream sports commentary is when the Bobcats are treated as an afterthought or joke. And while it's true that the teams have always been underwhelming (save for a playoff appearance four years ago), the many quality players that have come through Charlotte in the past ten years have deserved better. So in that sense, I'm happy for D.J. Augustin, and I'm happy that he topped off a terrific week (he scored 27 points in two of his previous three games), with one of his best games of his NBA career, playing in Charlotte. Of course, I probably would have liked a Bobcats win even better, but beggars can't be choosers, or something like that.
One of the reasons I'm talking about Augustin so much is because this game wasn't particularly eventful outside of that. The Bobcats struggled on offense for three quarters, finally finding some luck in the fourth, but not enough to take the lead, despite a pretty strong performance by the defense. The Bobcats bucked a trend by out-rebounding the Bulls, but struggled to shoot from range (especially), and had a tough time getting to the free throw line, though that was helped by the referees being...whatever the opposite of trigger-friendly is, allowing neither team to shoot that many free throws.
There were some bright spots, of course. Al Jefferson once again had a great game, scoring 32 on 15-for-26 shooting, and led either team in rebounds with thirteen. He also hit a buzzer-beater push shot from about 35 feet out. It obviously had no bearing on the final result, but it was cool as heck, and I was really happy it happened. And, honestly, credit to him for still playing hard even when there was no chance of winning.
Cody Zeller had one of his better games of the year, grabbing eight rebounds in 21 minutes, and adding seven points on four field goal attempts, plus getting to the line for four free throws, which, depressingly, led the team. Jannero Pargo lit up the scoreboard off the bench, scoring 15 points on a 5-8 line, and knocked down three of four from long range. Ramon Sessions didn't have a good night with his shot, but managed eleven assists while controlling the ball movement -- and doing so pretty well, much better than I would have expected.
I think that's where the big positives ended for the Bobcats, though. The team really did struggle to shoot the ball, shooting only 37-for-88 from the floor (42 percent). That's 51 missed shots. And this problem -- and the three-point shooting -- were much, much worse before the fourth quarter. Prior to the last seven seconds of the game, Charlotte made 3 of 16 three-point attempts. The shooting woes just emphasize an issue that we've known about the Bobcats for the whole year: Even if their defense plays great for three quarters, only getting one productive quarter from the offense probably won't be enough to win a game against a talented team. The offensive woes will become a little better once Kemba Walker returns from injury (get well soon), but the difference between the effectiveness of their offensive and defensive units is still staggering, and it's a tough balance to maintain when playing good teams.
Some Assorted Notes:
- If Anthony Tolliver isn't hitting his threes, then he won't have much to contribute besides defensive versatility, and the Bulls are a pretty traditionally-constructed team. There wouldn't have been much need for Tolliver tonight had Michael Kidd-Gilchrist not shot only 3-for-11, but Tolliver's 0-for-3 line wasn't exactly better.
- Pargo scored 15 points in 15 minutes, on very efficient shooting, and still finished at -11 in plus-minus. I'm not sure what that means, but I think it's notable enough to print here, and I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
- Normally I'd argue that Bismack Biyombo was once again underplayed, but the defense was playing well and it was clear that the Bobcats needed an offensive threat in the game when Al Jefferson was out. Or just any offensive threat, period, tonight.
- I think I want to see more of Jeff Adrien. I liked what he did early in the year.
- Did I mention that DJ Augustin has scored 27+ points three times this week? It's not being talked about because of Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony dropping 62, and Terrence Ross scoring 51 tonight, but that's really great. And, as I said above, I love seeing former Bobcats do well, especially for a team that seems like they'll make the playoffs pretty easily.
- Oh, and speaking of former Bobcats, Nazr Mohammed played four minutes for the Bulls tonight. He got two rebounds and a block. Basketball is weird.