You know, there's a lot to be said about effort in the face of being overwhelming outclassed. It's one of those things Bobcats fans always cherish about the early years.
This year's Bobcats have been frustratingly inconsistent in their energy level. Undoubtedly this falls on the heads of the coaching staff, but also the players as well. You could have a fantastic motivator, but without the minds open to change, the needle will stay right where it is.
Tonight, Boris Diaw sat his second consecutive game with a DNP-CD. It was decided before the game that he would be inactive and he, in his epaulet-clad shirt, took a seat in a chair behind the bench of active players. Since this movement, we've seen a lot more Eduardo Najera and a lot more energy. This is not any minor change. Boris Diaw is a good player. Sometimes. When he wants to be, he has as diverse a skill set that's ever been seen in a Bobcats jersey. But often he doesn't want to do that. He doesn't want to assert his offensive versatility and the team suffers. At Rufus on Fire, we've long deemed this as a "nonchalance" of sorts. It seems Paul Silas had finally had enough of it. Najera reemerged from a lengthy stint on the bench, bringing what Diaw could not: a relentless toughness couple with simple solid fundamentals. Najera didn't have the athleticism to match Derrick Favors, but he set solid picks, had some decent defensive positioning and at least fought with every fiber of his being. He didn't score and he doesn't score a lot anyway, but just adding him in adds a lot to changing the team's mindset.
The change in personnel certainly doesn't improve the Bobcats on paper, but on the court it's easy to see there's been an improvement. In just a couple games, I've seen a tougher squad expending everything they've got on the hardwood.
Alas, unfortunately for them tonight, they just didn't have enough in the tank to overcome both a disadvantage in talent and a shortcoming in available energy. Facing the Utah Jazz on a tail end of a back-to-back, the Charlotte Bobcats lost by six, 99-93.
The game started well enough. Corey Maggette brought the one-man show back to Time Warner Cable Arena to keep the Bobcats close, despite Al Jefferson mounting an unyielding attack in the paint. Everyone knew it was coming. Jefferson is one of the savviest offensive players in the post with a soft touch and head/ball fakes for days. Bismack tried to defend him valiantly, but forget it, kid - it's Jeffersontown. Biyombo had moments of biting on fakes and some moments on holding his ground, but Jefferson won those battles more often than not regardless of Biyombo's strategy. Kemba Walker added a ton off the bench early, scoring a bit, dropping a few dimes, forcing some turnovers; just an all-around package in the first quarter.
The second quarter was more of the same. Maggette led the Bobcats in scoring and dragged Josh Howard through the mud getting to the free throw line and drawing contact. It's not pretty basketball, but it had to be done to keep Charlotte close. Unfortunately, it was the Bobcats' only chance tonight with the rest of the Bobcats' starters shooting around or below average.
After halftime, things started to get out of hand for the Bobcats. What was a moderate dominance in the offensive paint became a full-blown dominance in the paint for the Jazz. The Bobcats tried to alleviate it by doubling Jefferson more often, but it just opened up the perimeter. Byron Mullens tried his best to keep the Bobcats' offense rolling by finding his groove after a slow start. The Jazz lead stretched into the mid-teens.
The Bobcats didn't have the legs to keep up on defense or offense and it showed. They couldn't get into transition as well nor could they hold their ground in the paint on defense. The bench tried to reel the game back into reach in the final quarter, but it was too late. Biyombo was the best defender in the paint for the Bobcats and did rebound pretty well, but that didn't mean much. The Jazz had their way against the Bobcats' interior defense and it shows on the statsheet: 54 points in the paint to the Bobcats' 36. And at one point, Utah led that category 52 to 20.
And still, the Bobcats fought them every step of the way. And that's something I can be proud of, as opposed to some other, closer games I've seen this season.