USA TODAY Sports
The Charlotte Bobcats were outplayed for most of tonight's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions brought the Cats back to take a lead but at winning time, Kyrie Irving put Cleveland on his back and walked out with a win in Charlotte.
To be completely cliché, the Bobcats had no business winning this game. Oh...they didn't win it; they just would have had no business doing so. Truthfully, they had no business even being in this game. After ending 2012 with a win against the Chicago Bulls and one of the more uninspired efforts you'll see from a professional sports team, the Bobcats did their best to one-up those Bulls for 75% of the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight. Charlotte put together a run in the fourth to actually take a lead before falling to Kyrie Irving and the Cavs 106-104 at home.
Let's just start with Kyrie Irving (33 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 blocks...LOL!) because he showed why he should be in the conversation of the best point guards in basketball. The kid is beyond legit; he is the future right now. He wants the ball and what's more is that he can actually do something with the ball with the game on the line, just as he did tonight.
Of course, the Bobcats practically rolled out the red carpet by leaving Ben Gordon on the Irving during critical stretches in the fourth quarter. That's a little harsh (albeit true) on Gordon, because he was pretty much the only reason the Bobcats were in it at the end, more on that coming up. Irving scored on three consecutive possessions before Jeff Taylor finally switch on him. Irving then proceeded to bait the rookie into a foul everyone in the building must have seen coming.
Irving scored 16 of Cleveland's 20 points in the fourth quarter, and walked Taylor down to the free throw line before drilling the basket that would ultimately prove to be the game winner with just one second remaining. When Irving is on the floor, you must make sure you have at least a possession's worth of cushion if you want to feel half way comfortable about your situation. But because the Bobcats played so awful for ¾ of the night, they were extremely lucky to be tied.
The Cavs shot a scorching 59% in the first half on their way to 62 points, tying the largest output for Cleveland this season (it would have been 63 but C.J. Miles' (18 points) toe was on the line as the Bobcats gave up an isolation jumper to end the half...so, good). Miles sprinted out to an 11-8 lead over the Bobcats for crying out loud. The Bobcats' defense was beyond putrid, but Cleveland was on fire. Charlotte looked like a young team that hadn't played all week and quite frankly Cavs played smarter, more aggressive basketball that led to turnovers and easy buckets.
Oh, the turnovers. Charlotte flipped, slipped, tossed, fumbled and fiddled its way to 10 first half turnovers that led to 13 Cleveland points.
Charlotte played fine offensively, if you love not getting into the paint and making/taking a bunch of jumpers. The Bobcats did shoot 45% from the field tonight, but in a game where the Cavs were missing Anderson Varejao and left Tristan Thompson (19 points, 13 rebounds) and Tyler Zeller to defend the interior, it would have been nice to see at least an effort to score down low.
The Bobcats don't really have anyone who can do that, save Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (7 points, 9 rebounds) and that's exactly what he did. His first three possessions were drives into the paint that resulted in a bucket, a bucket and trip to the free throw line. But he was the only one trying that for Charlotte and the Cavs outscored the Cats 26-12 in the paint in the first half.
The only thing that seemed to have success tonight were jumpers and scoring drives from Ben Gordon. That's not entirely true as Ramon Session chipped in 20 points (12-12 FT) and Gerald Henderson (17 points) kept the Bobcats within squinting distance with a nice first half (12 points, 4-5 from three). But Gordon's 18 second half points (27 on the night) helped turn what had been an 18-point deficit into a one-point lead with a little more than four minutes remaining.
In fact, Gordon and his merry band of cagers (Henderson, Sessions, and Taylor) played the entire fourth quarter...yeah-huh...the whole thing. Brendan Haywood, Tyrus Thomas and DeSagana Diop split the low post time in the final frame. That meant Kemba Walker (11 points, 5 assists), MKG, and Bismack Biyombo did not play at all in the fourth...that was odd. And it sounds very odd except for the fact that this lineup was really the only thing that was working...especially Gordon and Sessions.
The run was going so well that by the time it got down to that four minutes and change, and the Bobcats got that lead it was hard to justify making any changes. Although, putting Taylor (or Henderson, or Sessions) on Irving WAAAAAAAAY sooner would have been nice, but I'm not sure it would have ultimately mattered. Irving did just about whatever he wanted down the stretch and there aren't many people in the league, much less on this team, who would have been able to do much about it.
I'm sure some may have been frustrated not seeing MKG and Kemba at all in the fourth, especially since MKG was having some success in the post and Kemba is Kemba. But I can't blame Dunlap that much. Tonight, not much was working. And with this team when he finds a combination that works he almost has to stay with it. So keeping that lineup in once it got all the way back wasn't the worst.
Henderson got a decent deep look at a three that would have won the game, but it came up a hair short.
The Bobcats made the game fun in the second half, and it's nice to have Gordon on this team as someone who can absolutely catch fire, as he did tonight. But there's not much to excuse the effort, particularly on D, put forth in that first half and the play that put Charlotte in the position to come from that far behind in the first place. As a result, the Bobcats drop what should have been a winnable game at home to end their one-game winning game.