Bismack Biyombo's expression at the end of the Charlotte Bobcats' 98-91 win over the Toronto Raptors said it all. The youngest player in the NBA was all smiles and fist pumps after his Bobcats ended the longest losing streak in the league this season. And the rookie deserved to be smiling, as did all of the Bobcats after snapping the 16-game losing streak on team owner Michael Jordan's birthday.
Reggie Williams led the team in the first half going 7-9 for 16 points as he paced the Bobcats to a 47-45 lead. Other than a few sloppy possessions here and there, Charlotte actually played well on offense. Reflected in 50% shooting from the field on the night was an aggressive, attacking offense that has been absent most of the season.
The Bobcats actually moved the ball well and took advantage of the quickness of D.J. Augustin and Kemba Walker to put pressure on their men and attack the basket, kicking out to open jump shooters when blocked off.
For most of the first half the best choice to receive those kick outs was Williams. His was a signing that went largely unnoticed by most casual observers but was a sneaky good pickup for Michal Jordan and Rich Cho. His outside shooting is something the Bobcats desperately need and it was on full display tonight.
Save for a few dumb turnovers (it seems Corey Maggette is good for at least one awful pass to the other team every game) or attempted turnovers (I think we’re all good without Boris Diaw attempting a behind-the-back pass to Biyombo in traffic) the Bobcats played fairly well on offense. That behind-the-back attempt somehow ended up bouncing off the hands of Biyombo to a waiting Williams who nailed another three. At that point you had to think it might be the night.
Maggette (16 points on 5-12 from the floor) should be applauded for the way he continues to take the ball to the basket. He looked to drive at every possible chance and converted once he got there. A few of those drives could certainly have been whistled for free throws as well but nonetheless, his aggressiveness and willingness to put the ball on the floor seemed to be contagious.
He’s so much more effective when he’s driving to the basket. Maggette will still settle for jumpers, especially early on as he did tonight. He wasn’t hitting with a lot of regularity but instead of continuing to fire away, he looked to drive and it changed the entire offensive outlook for Charlotte.
James Johnson dominated much of the second quarter scoring 10 points on 5-6 shooting and dominated the Charlotte interior in doing so. A smart timeout from Paul Silas after two consecutive Bobcat turnovers that led to five Raptor points may have saved this half. Those were two very Bobcat plays, not an especially forced turnover that immediately resulted in points for the other team.
But just when it looked like the Bobcats would fade into this night the way they have so many before, misfiring on jump shots, Williams picked up where he left off in the first quarter to cut the lead to three. What had been an 8-0 Raptors run was quickly countered by a mini Bobcat run as Charlotte went inside on two consecutive plays and came away with five points of its own.
It’s amazing what going to the basket can do for a team. I know that’s easier said than done sometimes but you have to at least try. You have to at least make the person in front of you guard and put a little pressure on your opponent. When the Bobcats did that tonight, the results were really pretty good.
Having players healthy cannot be overstated either. It makes such a gigantic difference when you can turn to Kemba Walker for bench support as opposed to Cory Higgins, it just does. Having Augustin back helps this team so much for that reason and for the simple reason that D.J. is good. He’s a talent and that’s something this team is obviously void of.
What’s been lost on many over this league/franchise high losing streak is the fact that Silas was without three of his top players. Even when his de facto starters played well, there was such a significant drop off when he put in any form of a backup that too much ground was given up. Even getting one of these players back makes a difference and I think when all three return you will see a different team.
Not enough has been said about the return of Augustin, and that’s mostly my fault because I am writing this. This was the first start since missing 11 games for Augustin and thankfully he didn’t show any rust. He controlled the team the way a veteran should, taking his shot when he needed to and not forcing much of anything. Augustin finished with 11 points and 10 assists and such a calming influence at times it hardly mattered if he scored at all.
As previously mentioned, this also allowed Walker to come off the bench, not captain a team, and just worry about picking his spots, which he did well for the most part. He still forced a late three where the Bobcats could have certainly gotten a little better look or at least tried. But he also hit a huge triple in the third after two consecutive ridiculous Diaw turnovers and followed that up with a driving layup cutting the lead to one. The Bobcats turned the ball over seven times in the third quarter and were only down one going into the fourth.
Walker started the fourth doing exactly what was needed: taking the ball to the basket. The recipe to success in the fourth was to keep attacking and the Bobcats did just that. But Jose Calderon and Leandro Barbosa especially seemed to hit big shots just when the Raptors needed it all night. Barbosa hit a late shot with 4:35 remaining in the game to cut the lead to three. To the Bobcats’ credit they countered every time.
Every Raptors push was met by a Bobcats score, Biyombo with a bucket, Maggette hit two free throws, and then Diaw hit a massive shot to nearly seal the game with 42 second left to put the Bobcats up four. Toronto would get to the foul line on a DeMar DeRozan drive. DeRozan was seemingly held in check on the night by foul trouble and a collision with Maggette in the second half. But he was the Raptors’ leading scorer with a quiet 24. He made only one of two at the end.
The Bobcats went to their bread and butter to seal the game, dribble drive into traffic, toss the ball up and hope it bounces directly into the hands of D.J. White for an uncontested two…and it worked to perfection.
Some nights the ball bounces your way and tonight was one of those nights for the Bobcats. It was well deserved. The aforementioned reaction from Biyombo and the rest of the team almost made the last 16 games worth it…not really but you know what I’m saying. That kind of vicious losing vortex can completely drain a player and a team. I think in some weird way it may have helped tonight to have had players like Walker and White play such big minutes in recent weeks because they weren’t really shaken at the end.
Biyombo (8 points, 7 blocks and 13 rebounds) played his best game as an NBA player tonight, affecting the game just about every minute he was on the floor. It goes without saying that he still has a long way to go. Yes, he still looks mildly shocked when he gets the ball on offense and is still fairly puzzled by the pick and roll on both ends of the floor, but it is coming and you could see progress tonight. The blocks, which came from the very beginning tonight and didn’t stop, are natural. He still jumps for the fakes, although tonight was a vast improvement in that area too, but he’s got a knack for not fouling and meeting the player at the peak of the jump to stop the ball…that’s good.
His offense had one of those nights tonight where it didn’t look half bad. He never needs to shoot jumpers, seriously, never. But even just in this game, if it’s a catch and move to the rim he did get more comfortable. His defense away from the basket was key tonight as well. He still has a tendency to get lost but in the second half his ability to cover ground let him hedge and get back in position in time. He was also able to track the man with the ball and simply be a force at the rim. Nothing was easy tonight when he was in there…except on the few plays he bailed at the end.
It’s far from perfect, but it was another positive step for the young rookie. That’s not to say there won’t be set backs and more bad games, but you can see him progressing and from what the team says no one is working harder.
DeSagna Diop and Higgins didn’t play tonight; Matt Carroll and Tyrus Thomas only played two minutes a piece. Diaw's shot in the final minute salvaged what could have been a pretty poor effort from him. His silly turnovers could have been costly on any other night. Still, it’s the first game in a long time where the Bobcats who got significant minutes, all played significantly.