Only in the Eastern Conference can a February matchup between a 23-30 and a 22-30 team come with playoff implications. In both the Bobcats' and Pistons' first games after the break, each team would be looking to seize the opportunity to solidify or leap frog the other in the standings to claim sole possession of the eighth seed. With so much at stake Tuesday night's contest gave both teams much incentive to come out of the gates swinging.
The Bobcats came out focused off their five-day break, making five of their first six shots and built an early 13-6 lead. Detroit, on the other hand, gave the Bobcats plenty opportunities to work with. Whether indicative of the Bobcats' defensive scheme or their players innate shot selection instincts, the Pistons missed several midrange jumpers that the Bobcats were able to rebound to control the game. On the other end, they would turn those defensive rebounds into fouls and eventually finished with a 32-19 advantage after one.
A big reason for the Bobcats' success early was the play of Al Jefferson in the post. Jefferson showed a willingness to pass against the Pistons assertive frontcourt of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Yes, Jefferson still got his looks, but he always kept an eye for the cutting teammate to prevent the defense from zeroing in on him. Jefferson finished with 12 points, six rebounds and three assists while the Bobcats' other starters added 13 assists. Charlotte led at the half, 54-43, without the home team ever really challenging them.
Brandon Jennings started off the second half with a quick basket to try to cut into their deficit. However, the Bobcats had other ideas. They continued to hold their opponent at arm's length, leading by as much as 19, but would finish the quarter with just a 12 point lead.
Charlotte had to be on alert for one last push by the home team and the Pistons gave it in the form of six quick points. The Bobcats would compensate, nearly matching them point-for-point, and ultimately negate a true run by Detroit. In the final quarter, the Bobcats would score and the Pistons would too. When the Bobcats would go through a drought, so would the Pistons, wasting precious time. It wasn't until midway through the frame when Jennings hit a three to pull them within three that things got tense. Yet, Jefferson and the Bobcats kept their composure and held off their opponent's final advance.
If you're trying to visualize this game, imagine taking three steps in front of someone while they stay in place. Then have the two of you begin to run in place. This game had the potential to be more fun, but the Pistons' lack of urgency out of the gate negated that, but did give the Bobcats the chance to pounce early. Jefferson was remarkable yet again with a 32-point, 12-rebound and seven assist performance. Jefferson also received great support from Kemba Walker (22 points), Josh McRoberts (14) and Gerald Henderson (12). Jennings paced the Pistons with 24 points and seven assists.
Tuesday night was a great start for the Bobcats, both building good momentum into the second half and getting a game on Detroit. Even more important in the longterm, tonight gives the Bobcats the tie-breaker over the Pistons. Tomorrow night features another back-to-back with these same two teams, only this time the Queen City plays host.