We knew this time would come, we just didn't know if it would be preventing an NBA record or finalizing it. The Charlotte Bobcats beat the Indiana Pacers 90-89 to start the 2012-2013 season 1-0 and snapped a 23-game losing streak in the process. With the possibility of setting a record for most consecutive losses at 26 just three games away, the Bobcats played a hard fought game to get their first win since March 17, 2012.
This game was everything different from the end of last year, symbolic of the new regime on the sidelines. First of all, the place was packed. It was officially recorded as a sellout and I can confirm that Time Warner Cable arena was as alive as it has ever been.
The capacity crowd was treated from the get go with an up-tempo, aggressive, attacking style of basketball that lit up the first quarter of this basketball game. The Bobcats jumped out to a 12-3 lead when the Pacers called a timeout with 7:24 to go in the first.
It was amazing, and ultimately too good to be true. Of course the Bobcats weren't going to come out and dominate a good Indiana team all night.
The Bobcats didn't score for the next six minutes until Ben Gordon (10 points) finally hit a jumper with just over a minute remaining in the first. Gordon added a three before the buzzer to give Charlotte another bucket but it was pretty clear the Bobcats weren't going to be handed this game.
Tyler Hansbrough dominated inside for large portions tonight, and that is an issue. That is a problem. For as aggressive, effective, and as pleasing as Hansbrough is for North Carolina fans to watch, he should not be having his way with no resistance.
For most of the second quarter he abused Byron Mullens inside and scored at will. He scored eight points in the last two minutes of the first quarter, and with no Danny Granger, led the Pacers (along with Lance Stephenson) on the night with 15 points off the bench.
But for as much as the game wanted to get away from Charlotte, it never did. Head coach Mike Dunlap's defensive philosophy was on full display tonight as the Bobcats forced 19 turnovers while only giving up 11. The points off turnovers were not as great an advantage (just 17 to the Pacers 18, oddly enough) but winning the turnover battle is massively important for a team fighting to improve.
As is constituency, and for much of the night that's what Bobcats fans saw. There were not complete duds of quarters, where the Bobcats just went into a coma and waited for the horn to sound. The Bobcats scored 17 and 16 points in the first and final quarters respectively but exploded in the third for 35.
The second and third quarters were dominated by Kemba Walker's scoring. Walker tossed in twelve points in both quarters, finishing with 28 after three (30 on the night and only one turnover) and leading the Bobcats into the final stanza. Walker got inside and was also effective shooting he ball, he was pretty fantastic tonight. He played like the draft pick this team envisioned.
Gerard Henderson was almost workmanlike in his contribution, extremely solid and efficient continuing to drill that pull up jumper for 18 points on the night. And Ramon Sessions was steady in delivering 11 points and four assists off the bench.
Not to say that everything was as smooth as soy milk tonight. The lineup combinations are of course not dialed in to where Dunlap would probably like. Charlotte still went painful stretches without decent looks at the basket and gave up too many open looks. Much of that is to be expected.
The interior defense was spotty at times and Tyrus Thomas (4 points, 1-9 FG) and Mullens were ineffective stopping anyone down low. It still makes a difference having a legit seven-footer in Brendan Haywood in the low block. As long as he can stay healthy, he makes the Bobcats better if for no other reason than he can make up for some others' defensive shortcomings. He also went Gangnam Style after a tip jam in the fourth.
Mullens was not scoring tonight. He made only three of ten field goal attempts for six points and nothing from beyond the arc. Unfortunately when Mullens is not playing to his scoring strength, he's usually not that effective. However, it does not show up on the stat sheet but you can see a difference in his overall play. He's more aggressive on defense; he's even in the right place for the most part. Those were things of legitimate concern last year. So when the Bobcats can win a game without Mullens scoring, in all honesty that's a pretty good sign.
It was not prefect by any means, but who the hell cares?
Charlotte was efficient from the line, making 87.5% of its free throws, led by Walker's 9-10. The Bobcats forced more turnovers than they committed, and kept the game close with defense when they couldn't score.
Dunlap appeared to want some experience down the stretch, as Bismack Biyombo (2 blocked shots, 4 rebounds) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2 points, 7 rebound, 2 blocks) both sat out the final and deciding portion of the game. For their parts, they both looked like rookies. MKG struggled offensively (no surprise) but was all over the court and made things happen as well (no surprise). Biz...Biz played much like Biz of last year, and that's what should probably be expected. He still excelled at defending the rim when reactionary, but struggled with almost anything offensively.
Tyrus Thomas played down the stretch tonight and hit what ended up being the game winning shot, but he also took some of the worst shots of the night including two additional late ones.
End of clock offensive possessions still seem to be an issue, especially if Thomas is taking those shots, but there was certainly more purpose in what Charlotte ran tonight.
Ultimately it came down to a former Bobcat in D.J. Augustin who found himself wide open (another concern, as it happened pretty much all night) with a shot from the corner to win the game.
I'm sure Bobcats fans wish him the best, it's not like he was responsible for the disastrous, skull-numbing season of doom. But if he were to hit a shot with no time left in the first game of the season, in front of a packed house, with (let's face it) the only chance for Charlotte to fight of history I think it would have crushed this team and fan base.
The Bobcats had to win this game; especially once it appeared within reach and with Augustin's shot glancing off the rim as time expired that's exactly what they did.
There is now way this recap does this victory justice. It wasn't a franchise or city-defining event. It was not a life-changing moment those in attendance will tell their children about (I will). But it was a meaningful win for a team and a franchise that has endured a lot of frustration over the last year. The Bobcats have won more than they have lost to this point and just as importantly they looked like an improved team in the process.