1If you're going to give your star point guard the night off due to a minor injury, sometimes games like these will happen. Kemba Walker's groin injury led to Luke Ridnour's first start in a Charlotte uniform. And Ridnour performed pretty well, given the circumstances, but I'm pretty sure everyone believes that Kemba's absence from the lineup had a pretty major impact on the shorthanded Bobcats, especially on defense and with ball movement.
Sometimes you're just going to have games like this. When Steve Clifford made the decision to rest Walker, I'm sure he was aware that he was sacrificing some probability of a Bobcats win in favor of preventing one of the team's best players from aggravating his injury. So I have a feeling he was aware this might happen. But you would still think that nobody on the bench is happy with a loss, even a shorthanded one, to a lottery team, especially one who was also missing their star point guard. Rajon Rondo's injury appears to not have affected the Celtics that much, though, as Phil Pressey still finished with 13 assists, and the rest of the team did not at all struggle to score.
Well, to be fair, both teams had a pretty easy time scoring, although the Bobcats did have a cold streak at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth -- and, unsurprisingly, this coincided with Al Jefferson's second-half bench stint. The Celtics shot .519 from the floor, .478 from three, and made all 13 of their free throws. The Bobcats weren't far behind at .506 from the floor, .389 from three, and .667 from the stripe. Those are pretty high shooting numbers, but that's how these two teams were both able to reach triple digits on the scoreboard.
To summarize the previous paragraph: tonight's contest was not marked by strong defensive play. Both teams struggled to keep opposing guards out of the lane (this was another area where Kemba Walker's presence would have been a significant improvement), and both allowed too many open looks from behind the arc. The Celtics were able to take advantage of the long opportunities better than the Bobcats were, but Al Jefferson and company were dominant in the paint.
Jefferson led all players with 32 points and 10 rebounds, in another typically great performance that saw him physically impose his way around, over, and through the opposition. Josh McRoberts was instrumental in stretching the floor, hitting three of his four looks from long range, and finishing with 10 assists. Ridnour and Gerald Henderson both hit their shots and spread the ball well, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a strong offensive game for him, attacking the offensive boards and getting to the rim.
Unfortunately, the starters were considerably worse on the other end of the court. Kidd-Gilchrist had a lot of trouble with Jeff Green, especially in isolation, as Green was able to back down his defender with ease; he would finish with 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Ridnour struggled no matter who he was charged with guarding, with Pressey and Bradley both able to blow by him, and Ridnour does not possess the speed necessary to keep up with a quick guard who already has a step on him.
As you can imagine, this put extra pressure on the defensive frontcourt to protect both the rim and close the passing lanes. It was a tough task, especially as Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk found success both in the interior and when stepping outside, hitting a combined four of seven shots from three-point range. This, I think, is where Kemba was needed most; the starting unit was diminished defensively by having a slow guard in the point role. This was only exacerbated by their lack of options to make up for that deficiency, as Kidd-Gilchrist was thrust into a difficult one-on-one matchup, and Henderson picked up his fourth foul only minutes into the second half, limiting both his minutes and ability to play as physically as he would have liked.
The bench, on the other hand, was up-and-down. Both Gary Neal (6-for-8 for 13 points) and Chris Douglas-Roberts (quality defensive play) played well within their roles, but Bismack Biyombo (four fouls in nine minutes) and Jannero Pargo (2-for-10 shooting) struggled mightily, and Cody Zeller seemed to revert to his early-season play defensively, alternating between being lost and being out-physicalled (Is that a word? If not, I'm using it anyway) in the post. This is a trend that won't continue, I would assume, but it was not good to see, and was pretty unhelpful in tonight's game.
This all goes back to the decision to keep Walker out of the game tonight. Injury or not, I'm sure the Bobcats would have had a much better game had he been in the lineup. That said, I appreciate Clifford's conservative mentality in this respect, especially with so few games left to play before the playoffs. There's no need to risk anything at the moment, and although the Bobcats are now a game behind the Wizards in the standings after tonight's games, they need to continue to think big picture. It would have been nice to leave Boston with a victory, but like I said at the beginning, sometimes this just happens.