For two teams jostling for playoff positioning in their respective conferences for playoff positioning, Tuesday's matchup between the Mavericks and Bobcats was a little more important than their normal matchups. For the visiting Mavericks, they held a four game lead on the ninth seed Memphis Grizzlies but found themselves tied for seventh with the Golden State Warriors. As for the Bobcats, they were deadlocked for the eight seed in the Eastern Conference, making tonight all the more pivotal.
Both teams came out tonight focused on playing until late April when Samuel Dalembert (Yes, of all people, I know) initiated the scoring at the 10:40 mark. Although he was not a big scorer tonight, Josh McRoberts was the catalyst for the team's offense. Time and time again, McRoberts doled out assist after assist, setting up Jefferson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson for big baskets pacing themselves with their opponent. Ball movement was a huge aspect of the Bobcats' early play and not just for McRoberts. The Bobcats got assists on 11 of the their 12 first-quarter field goals.
Another key factor in the Bobcats' strong first half play was their ability to get to the line, but all of the breaks seemed to go the Bobcats' way in the first quarter and second half. Dirk Nowitzki did tweak his ankle, unfortunately, but the Bobcats built their lead on their own accord, finishing with 12 free throw attempts to the Mavs' two and Anthony Tolliver and Jefferson totaled 16 points in the first half. Really, it was not just Tolliver but the entire bench that supported the starters to the tune of a 28-14 advantage in bench production in the first half. The Bobcats' success from beyond the arc was exceptional considering their season averages, but you can't knock it, especially when they were able to move the ball so well to create those shots.
Nowitzki managed to tough out the ankle tweak and started the second quarter, determined to get his team back from their 14-point deficit. The Bobcats had other ideas and ripped off of a 15-3 run in the first four and a half minutes to open up a 26-point advantage. Al Jefferson & Co. were able to hold a 20+ point lead for much of the third quarter in large part because of Jefferson's continued dominance in the paint, taking an 89-65 lead into the final 12 minutes.
With the Bobcats just a few minutes away from what would be one of their best wins of the year, the Mavericks made their inevitable final push for victory. Devin Harris began the quarter with a layup and Nowitzki followed that up with a pair of threes in spite of his ankle trouble from earlier in the game. When Monta Ellis' midrange basket made it a 17-point game, it was Tolliver answering the call again from three to push the lead back to 20 and the reserves had full responsibility to hang on for the final seven minutes.
The only real negative to tonight was that Kemba Walker struggled before leaving the game late with a foot injury, but all in all, this was a great team win. Jefferson put up 30 points and 8 rebounds while Tolliver finished with 22 points and McRoberts finished with nine points and a career-high 13 assists. Up and down the roster, the Bobcats got important contributions from Bismack Biyombo to Gerald Henderson to Cody Zeller. The Bobcats finished with a season high in assists (42) and shot 50 percent from three - a healthy relationship for sure. Perhaps more importantly, the Bobcats were able to slightly improve their playoff positioning on the Pistons, with whom they already owned the tie-breaker. Also, this is neat:
Bobcats had 42 assists off 45 baskets tonight. That percentage -- 93.3% -- is highest in NBA this season.— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) February 12, 2014
Tomorrow night, the Bobcats will run it back in Brooklyn, hopefully with the services of Kemba Walker.