So the Bobcats are down 0-2 in their first round, best-of-seven series against the defending champions Miami Heat. Charlotte's centerpiece and best player is playing on one leg. The Bobcats' starting shooting guard has shown up for maybe two of the eight postseason quarters. Their bench has not shown up at all for the most part and led to head coach Steve Clifford calling for more readiness from that unit. Bismack Biyombo didn't even play in the second game! Is all hope lost? Was there ever any hope at all? Is there no humanity in this world?!
Fear not Charlotte fans, all is not lost. There are some very good things to take away from the first two games.
This is too great not to mention first! Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had the best game of his career on the biggest stage of his professional career to date. He was aggressive from the get go in Game 2 on both ends of the floor. But it was his offense that really raised eyebrows and had Cats fans jumping for joy. Kidd-Gilchrist used his quickness on the perimeter to slash to the basket for 22 points. Slashing is still his offensive strength. Kidd-Gilchrist forced the issue demanding the Heat stop him, and they really couldn't.
On defense MKG was what we've come to expect, a difference maker. Charged with checking LeBron James most of the night, Kidd-Gilchrist was aggressive and held his ground despite picking up two early fouls...again. But he was able to play 34 minutes last night comparedto just 14 in Game 1.
James has been able to get his, because he's LeBron James. But when Kidd-Gilchrist has been on the court in the playoffs the Heat have had an offensive rating of 88.9, when he's off the court that rating balloons to 129.7, per NBA.com/stats. That's a lot of points scored per 100 possessions...like 129.7. It's only in two games, so a super smalll sample size, but it shows that MKG can play against the very best and that's just as important for him to see.
Big Al, duh
Of course Al Jefferson's injury is nearly the worst thing that could happen to the team, realistically. As if Bobcats fans didn't have enough of a complex after somehow drawing the Heat in the first round, they have to see their star get injured in the first quarter of the first game. Of course, Big Al is Big Al. Assured by the medical staff the he couldn't suffer any long term damage by playing on his already injured foot, Jefferson has played through pain to still throw up a double-double in both games.
It's a shame the rest of the league hasn't been able to see just how dominant Jefferson is, and against the Heat that is typically on display in all its glory, but he (and the Bobcats) have earned respect from those watching. Jefferson's mobility has been limited but fortunately it was never really his strong suit anyway. He's literally done everything he could thus far in the playoffs. And as long as he can walk you can expect to see him out there.
Steve Clifford emphasized that the medical staff and the entire team is checking on Jefferson at every break during the games. They do not want to risk a long-term injury and apparently that is not a concern. So seeing the big guy labor, and grimace and still get his is all the more impressive.
The Bobcats have played well in close games all year, and one key in this series was not to get down big (especially early) to avoid having to claw their way back against a very tough opponent. Well, the Heat have built leads as big as 20 and 16 in the first two games.
In Game 2, the Heat jumped out to a 16-point lead and the Bobcats cut it to four several times until finally getting to to one before the Heat held them off for the win. Point being, the Bobcats were never knocked out. Did they get the best Heat?Well, maybe not the absolute best the Heat can be, but perhaps the best this team can be this year. Probably the best the Heat have been this year. The battle back, especially in Game 2 had to make Charlotte fans feel good about what this young team can take from this challenge.
Playoff experience, it's real!
No matter how bad things get, even if the Bobcats get swept in the next two games, never forget that playoff experience is not something you can get without actually being in the playoffs. Yes, the signing of Al Jefferson, the bowing out of the lottery, the actually playing winning/enjoyable/watchable basketball all to get into the playoffs and get swept (IF that happens) was all worth it.
This team is not like the previous Bobcat playoff team, it has not peaked. This team is younger, has more flexibility financially and is in an exponentially better place to build on this playoff appearance. These games are invaluable to the like of Kemba Walker, Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, and hopefully Gerald Henderson.
Henderson played better during stretches in Game 2, but was mostly invisible during Game 1. Coincidentally Henderson is the only player on the Bobcats that has been on both playoff teams, although he was just a rookie on that first team and didn't see the court in the postseason.
Walker hasn't played his best games but has been forced to play even more (38 minutes in Game 1, 44 in Game 2) with the limited success from backup Luke Ridnour. Despite being bothered by the Heat's smothering defense, Walker came back to hit two huge threes in Game 2. He's never been afraid of the big stage, and he should be able to get used to playoff speed in these games.
No one likes to talk about moral victories, but that doesn't mean you can't find some very positive things to take away from this Bobcat playoff experience. We're only two games in, so the Bobcats still have at least two more chances to get one win or better.