At this point in the season, I don't know many fans who would have expected the Bobcats to really, truly struggle against the Bucks in Milwaukee. Thankfully, they turned on the jets late in the fourth quarter and stopped the pretenses that it would be a down-to-the-wire finish. Gary Neal, Gerald Henderson, and Kemba Walker all played very well down the stretch to help the victory efforts, and Al Jefferson also contributed a quiet 20 points despite a slow start.
This game was not without issues for the Bobcats. They turned the ball over 17 times which was unacceptable, especially against one of the worst teams in the league. For all of his virtues, Jefferson didn't help on this end, giving the ball away six times over the course of the game. The Bobcats were also out-rebounded and outworked on the glass, allowing the Bucks to pull down 15 offensive rebounds -- three of which fell to point guard Brandon Knight. And while the defense didn't appear to struggle much (the Bucks shot only .416 from the floor), the Bobcats did allow Milwaukee to stay in the game for far too long. This was because of the Bucks' 40 points in the paint, an issue not helped by all of those offensive rebounds.
It was not all negative, though. The Bobcats had one of their best shooting nights of the season, converting field goals at a .574 rate and hitting from three at a .450 clip. Every starter except Josh McRoberts made more than half of their shots, and even he was a respectable 3-7 from the field. The Bobcats thrived from long range, with McRoberts, Walker, Henderson, and Neal all hitting multiple shots from behind the arc. They also blocked eight shots, which is always a good number.
Let's get to some player grades.
Josh McRoberts: McRoberts finished with nine points, six rebounds, and six assists. While he had some issues on defense, he was vital in leading a second unit that relied on either Cody Zeller or Bismack Biyombo to deal with Milwaukee's centers defensively and didn't move the ball well on offense without McRoberts' help. There were times when the second unit seemed like they would let the Bobcats' deficit slip to double-digits, but McRoberts was perhaps more important than anyone in ensuring the game stayed close. Grade: A-
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: The Bucks don't have a ball-dominant or shot-happy small forward like most NBA teams do. Still, Khris Middleton was held to 3-12 shooting and rookie sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo missed all four of his shots. Offensively, he made four of six shots for nine points and grabbed three offensive rebounds. His high-energy style of play has been paying off lately, and he, like the team, has improved a lot in the last few months. Grade: B+
Al Jefferson: While 10-17 shooting for 20 points and seven rebounds isn't quite the game we've come to expect from Big Al, it's still very good. I like having a player whose off-nights look like this. The six turnovers were pretty unhelpful, but he was effective defensively in addition to having a fine offensive performance. Grade: B+
Kemba Walker: Kemba had a game-high 21 points on 7-13 shooting, and dropped eight dimes too. While he only took one shot in the paint, his jumpers ended up dropping through the net. He got to the line six times, and, along with Gerald Henderson, was key in holding Brandon Knight to a measly 9-21 shooting night. Knight made most of his shots when Luke Ridnour was in the game (but we'll get to that). During the few stretches when his teammates had trouble hitting their shots, Kemba facilitated the offense both through his shooting and his ability to create opportunities for his teammates. Grade: A
Gerald Henderson: Henderson only took seven shots, but he made six of them, leading to a very efficient fourteen points. He also finished with five rebounds and six assists, showing off his solid all-around skill set. He and Kemba were the crucial in ensuring Knight missed more shots than he made (and, with 21 attempts, that really could have hurt the Bobcats had they not been solid defensively). Grade: A-
Cody Zeller: Zeller made the only shot he attempted but drew two fouls to head to the line twice. His six rebounds in just 16 minutes was the highest per-minute rate of any player. While he had issues defending Milwaukee's more physical bigs (Jeff Adrien scored 12 points), he still caused a bunch of missed shots so it wasn't too bad of a defensive performance for him. Grade: B-
Bismack Biyombo: Milwaukee's frontcourt was a better matchup for Biyombo than most teams' the Bobcats have seen recently, and he responded with a productive game. While he only grabbed two rebounds, he was very effective defensively. He also added four points on three shot attempts, which is a solid number for him, especially in 11 minutes. Grade: B-
Luke Ridnour: Gaining Ridnour for Ramon Sessions (who scored 18 points off of the bench tonight) was always going to be a hit to the Bobcats' second unit. In other words, Ridnour is basically just a shooter at this point and he needs to hit most of his shots to be effective. Unfortunately, he shot 1-5 and finished with two points. He recorded only two assists in his seventeen minutes. Ridnour's defense was equally ineffective against both Knight and Sessions, and the Bobcats seemed to be playing from behind whenever he was on the court. He'll have better games, but he had little positive impact today. Grade: D-
Gary Neal: It was a bit of a revenge game for both Ramon Sessions and Gary Neal, it seems. While Sessions scored his 18 points on 14 shots, Neal finished with the same figure on just six. Neal made all six of his free throws and hit two of his three attempts from long range. When you're that effective a scorer off the bench, you don't need to do much more. Thankfully, he was also committed to getting through screens and forcing his man to take tough shots. This is the best game I've seen from Neal since the deadline-day trade. Grade: A
Chris Douglas-Roberts: I was a little surprised to see Douglas-Roberts get 13 minutes and Anthony Tolliver not play, as I think Tolliver's versatility would have been more useful against the Bucks. But with Zeller and Biyombo both playing reasonably well, Steve Clifford might not have wanted another forward on the floor. CDR wasn't effective offensively, missing all three of his shot attempts, but he did grab three rebounds. He didn't play poorly, but his shots didn't fall. Grade: C-