Tonight didn't have to go this way, but it did. Most of us probably knew there was a possibility of tonight ending like this, but, again, the Bobcats had a puncher's chance of avoiding their eventual fate tonight. If they had won tonight, it wouldn't have been pretty, but an ugly win stills counts for the same amount of wins as a blowout does. Aside from sloppy play from both sides, the Spurs were without Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair, which minimized the gap between the two teams' frontcourt abilities.
The Bobcats needed to start tonight off on the right foot against the Spurs, who are notorious for dismantling younger, more inexperienced teams. Instead, the Bobcats began the game with an MKG traveling violation, a Jeff Adrien foul and turnover, and additionally, a missed three. It looked as though this was certain to be a long night when the Spurs opened up with a pair of threes that helped push the lead to 8-0 just three minutes into the game. About halfway through the first, the Bobcats woke up and realized that to win this game, they were going to have to sacrifice style points in favor of forcing turnovers and drawing fouls. While the Spurs would pull away 21-14, the Bobcats would close the frame with a 9-3 run led by the backcourt of Ramon Sessions and Kemba Walker.
Logically, you would want to carry that momentum from the end of the first into the beginning of the second. Instead, we saw a Sessions miss, a Haywood missed tip, a Haywood shooting foul, and a bad pass from Henderson. Fortunately, the Spurs only pushed the lead to 32-23 when Brendan Haywood scored off of a Ben Gordon feed at 9:52 in the quarter. The Spurs weren't exactly trying to put this game out of reach, either. They were uncharacteristically sloppy, and exhibited more vulnerability in the paint than usual, but the Bobcats could not take advantage of this. They were unable to get back within seven for the rest of the half. While Charlotte managed to force turnovers, their inability to cut back on their own and habit of taking low percentage shots to stop San Antonio runs hurt them in the first half.
Despite the relatively sloppy nature of the contest, the Bobcats only trailed 49-37. Turnovers and poor 3-point shooting aside, the Bobcats forced turnovers, rebounded, and drew fouls and made their free throws. Had they improved their shot selection, scaled back the bad passes, and continued to stay aggressive and drive the ball inside, tonight's game could have been much different. Instead, we saw Sessions lead the Bobcats at the half with 13 points on 11 shots (Not OK) and Tony Parker doing Tony Parker things for the Spurs.
Henderson started the third quarter with a nice made jumper, but there wasn't anything else encouraging for another three minutes. The Bobcats had yet another chance to make a run on the Spurs, but just couldn't take advantage of the opening. As a young team, that's hard to overcome. It wasn't until Kawhi Leonard made it 55-43, Spurs, that the Bobcats woke up again, but, by that time, so had the Spurs.
The Bobcats had also gotten away from the little things they did in the first half, like getting to the line and drawing fouls. When Sessions finally went to the line over halfway through the quarter, it was too late. The Spurs had already built an 18-point lead. The Bobcats' shot selection hadn't improved either; the ball was still going through guys like Haywood and Sessions far too much. It sure didn't help that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was dogged by former Bobcat Stephen Jackson all night, and had to work for everything he did get. He even finished with four steals.
It's one thing to be down to the Spurs by 14 at the end of any quarter, but it's another when it's the fourth quarter. Oh, and when you're on the road and you start the quarter by attempting (and failing) to run the offense through Haywood and suffering through two Ben Gordon turnovers within 15 seconds of each other. And, after a Sessions turnover that led to an S-Jax dunk off the break, it became clear that Kemba needed to take over.
Charlotte wasted so much time trying to fruitlessly run their offense through Sessions (who finished with 20 points on 19 shots), Brendan Haywood, and giving Jefferey Taylor too many touches. Kemba isn't a great shooter, but I'm more comfortable with the shot coming from his hands than Sessions'. I would prefer to have things go through Kemba rather than anyone else when the Bobcats need to regain their composure. Yes, this includes MKG, who I love dearly. However, he works best within the flow of the offense, and was kept in check tonight anyway.
Surprisingly, the Bobcats finally managed to catch the Spurs napping about halfway through the quarter. They were able to do so despite the semi-aggravating shot selection of Ben Gordon as they pulled within 11 with four minutes to go. We saw it all from Gordon tonight: contested shots, off-balance shots, and even trapped-in-the-corner-only-able-to-see-the-backboard shots. To his credit, some did go in. However, that was the last push of the Bobcats, as they returned to their regularly scheduled programming of Missed Midrange Jumper Theater and As the Three Pointer Falls Harmlessly Off of the Rim.
Thanks to the contributions from the Spurs' bench, they came away with a nice twenty four point victory for themselves. Really, for much of three quarters the game looked much closer than that, but that's neither here nor there because they executed and maintained their focus when the other team didn't. The Bobcats got away from what kept them in the game early and could not find a reason to get back to it. It doesn't do much good to force twenty-three turnovers if you're going to turn around and give back those same twenty three, especially against the Spurs, who are now 21-2 at home. The Bobcats even outscored the Spurs in points off of turnovers (34-23) which makes them all of the more frustrating.
It would've been nice to pounce on a Spurs team that was shorthanded and off of their game.Still, Kemba Walker finished with 16-6-4 and MKG contributed what he could to the team. Even Taylor is looking more comfortable, evident in his 9-4-3 night on 4-8 shooting. He's still improving, but has made some nice strides since the preseason.
The Bobcats continue their Texas tour on Saturday against the Rockets in Houston and will be looking to get right against a team that has had their struggles of late.
For the Spurs perspective, check out our friends at Pounding The Rock