The last time Celtics head coach Brad Stevens faced Kemba Walker, his Butler Bulldogs lost to Walker's UConn Huskies 53-41 in the 2011 NCAA Championship. It was the type of inexplicable game that left you more bewildered than anything else, as shot after shot found more rim than net. Their second matchup wasn't terribly different.
The story of this game wasn't the 16-point lead the Bobcats built in the second quarter, or that they led for the entire game, or that they continued to find success in the paint, or that the game was all but relinquished by the Celtics during the final minute. No, it was the teams' - both of them - inability to just make a simple field goal. The Celtics finished with a 37.7 percent mark from the floor, and the Bobcats, who were the winning team, made only 36.6 percent of their shots. It wasn't a matchup of strong defensive play, either; many players, even Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, struggled at times on defense, and the Bobcats, in particular, left many shooters open from range (though, given the rate at which their opponents hit these shots, I'm not sure I blame them).
Thank goodness for turnovers and free throws. The Bobcats won the turnover battle 15 to 12, with Walker and Cody Zeller combining for five steals. They also made better use of their foul shots, with a 86.7 percent success rate to Boston's 72.0 percent. Another reason to be happy at the Bobcats finding a large percentage of their offensive production on drives or in the paint is the increase in drawn fouls, which resulted in a cool 30 free throw attempts tonight. The free throw disparity might not have swung the game, but it certainly played a big part in the Bobcats' ultimate victory.
Of course, all these missed shots meant that there were many rebounds to be had, and the Bobcats won this battle too, albeit only slightly. Charlotte grabbed 12 offensive rebounds to Boston's 10, and had 50 overall to Boston's 45, despite the Bobcats missing more shots than the Celtics. Al Jefferson led the way with 11, and Walker, Zeller, and Gerald Henderson each had nine, including a huge last-minute pull-down from Kemba in traffic, when it was still anyone's game. Bismack Biyombo also added four boards in 15 minutes in an otherwise unspectacular game.
Though the Bobcats did lead the entire game, it was often close, due to going for minutes at a time on multiple occasions without adding a field goal. There was some element of luck involved that kept both teams' scoring rates so low, surely, as it just wasn't a good game for either squad. That being said, credit must be given to the Bobcats for never squandering the lead, and always playing well enough to outpace the opposition. With that in mind, let's get to some player grades.
Anthony Tolliver: It seems more and more like Tolliver is being used as a three-point specialist, which is nice because he keeps hitting them, going 3-for-6 from behind the arc tonight (and making two shots from the stripe). He contributed in small amounts elsewhere, with some solid defense, and played an okay all-around game, given the role he took over with McRoberts out. Grade: B-
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: Another solid game for MKG as he progresses in his sophomore year in the NBA. His defensive play was once again likely the best on the team, and his offensive game is still efficient, even if it is lacking in total output, in terms of points. He's doing well, and we'll likely see his shot continue to progress - he hit a long two on a jump shot! - as the year goes on. It already looks like it's improved, even if that isn't by much. Grade: B-
Al Jefferson: Jefferson had the best game of anyone on the team, especially on the offensive end, where he made eight of his seventeen shots and made all six of his free throws for a 22-point total. I talked about his rebounding earlier, which included two on the offensive end, but he had a very well-rounded offensive game. His defense was what we can expect from him (as in: not great, but still good to make a few plays on that end), but he minimized his turnovers, and even added three assists. Big Al came through for the team in a tough win. Grade: A-
Kemba Walker: I would imagine Kemba is still nursing the injury he suffered last week against the Knicks, as I can't imagine why else he would be slumping so badly with his shooting; or why he would ever shoot 1-for-13 like he did tonight. Despite only passing for two assists, he still played relatively okay otherwise, with nine rebounds, three steals, and quality defensive play. It could have been worse, but a total of three points is going to minimize his impact, especially when his passes aren't resulting in points. Grade: C
Gerald Henderson: His season-long shooting woes got somewhat better tonight, but it only resulted in a 5-for-14 line from the floor and 3-5 on free throws. Luckily, he added value in other places, leading the team in assists with five, and pulling down nine rebounds, three of which came on the offensive end. This isn't the Gerald Henderson we have become accustomed to during his previous four seasons (especially offensively) and that will need to change for the Bobcats to have continued success with the starting backcourt. Grade: C+
Cody Zeller: Zeller only went 2-for-7 from the floor, but still played well overall, (are you seeing a trend here?) played surprisingly consistent defense and got nine rebounds, four of which were on offense. The two steals were a plus, but that may have been a net negative, as he turned the ball over three times. He does seem to be learning quickly, though, and it won't be long before he learns how to best utilize his physical abilities. Grade: C+
Bismack Biyombo: This was a very Bismack Biyombo game. His 2-for-3 shooting was efficient, but not with enough volume to have much of an impact either way. Good rebounding, but only when looked at in conjunction with his playing time. Quality defense, but without the type of quickness in recognition that would allow him to be a true defensive playmaker, especially as he could only be assigned to a rim-protector role at the moment. He's played better. He's played worse. Grade: C
Ramon Sessions: It was a very up-and-down game for Sessions, who didn't shoot well but got to the foul line. He didn't end up with many assists but moved the ball well and played passable defense. Like Biyombo, he's had better and worse games. I suppose this is a trend. Nobody (with the exception of Jefferson) played explicitly well, but I'm not sure anyone played poorly enough to shoulder a plurality of the blame. Grade: C
Jeff Taylor: Most likely Taylor's best game of the season! It was a quality offensive game for him, shooting 50 percent from the floor and knocking down his shots at the stripe, as well as playing the strong defense that draft scouts recognized in the summer of 2012. Hopefully more and more of his games will look like this as the season continues. Grade: B+