This one was quite hard to watch. It wasn't hard to watch because for spells the Bobcats played ugly offensive, lazy defense and took awful shots. No, it was hard to watch because this game seems to have marked a regression from all of what's been positive about the Bobcats this season. So far, there's been a pretty clear trend: you could easily determine what kind of game the Bobcats were going to have from the first quarter performance. The lost games were lost early. The wins were catalyzed by an energetic first quarter performance, which they were able to sustain throughout. Aside from having a winning record, which is pretty cool, the most impressive aspect of the Bobcats performances so far has been their seeming unflappability and ability to pull through. This makes the capitulation in the third quarter all the more galling.
The Bobcats actually did get off to a bright start, leading 18-14 early on and having an early advantage on the boards. However, the Knicks made a run with a series of baskets from Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton, who had 10 and 8 points respectively, at the end of the first and never looked back, commanding the lead for the rest of the game.
There's really not a whole lot to say about the ins and outs of the rest of the game beyond that. The Bobcats kept it relatively close, though never playing all that well, until a third quarter barrage from the Knicks put things to bed. There were one or two false dawns from the Bobcats, but the Knicks were able to keep a comfortable distance between the teams, going 12-for-26 from three and coming up with crucial offensive rebounds when needed.
There was a very different flow to how the Bobcats operated, especially in the first half. Anthony Tolliver saw more minutes than usual early and didn't offer very much, especially defensively. They were never able to find any momentum on offensive, with Kemba Walker struggling early on. It'll come as no shock, but this game really did highlight Kemba Walker as an on-court influence. Simply put, when Walker plays bad, so does the rest of the team. Don't let the 25 points fool you, this was a bad Kemba game. Most of his points came when the game was beyond doubt. Whether he was still struggling with injury or simply facing solid perimeter defense from the Knicks remains to be seen.
The small line up of the Knicks definitely created problems for the Bobcats, defensively. The Knicks were able to spread the court, making life extremely difficult for the Bobcats bigs. Cody Zeller, in particular, struggled to keep up on defensive, looking lost on a number of rotations leading to easy baskets, giving up two consecutive offensive rebounds to Carmelo Anthony. Bismack Biyombo also struggled with the Knicks stretching the floor. He was solid inside, grabbing 11 rebounds, but simply was not comfortable closing out on the perimeter, leaving some wide open three point opportunities for the Knicks.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the one positive on the defensive end. He was active and played some very solid defense on Carmelo Anthony. Much of the time his effort went unrewarded with Anthony making difficult shots, but it's worth pointing out a rare positive in a night of almost wall-to-wall bad. Offensively, it was more of a mixed bag for MKG. He got his shot going and managed to sustain it early, but made some very ill-advised, momentum-killing drives to the rim at times where it looked like the Bobcats might go on a run. These drives really highlighted the desperate need for him to add a floater to his game, but also to play smarter and be more discriminating with his driving attempts.
Offensively, things looked pretty bad all round, with the Bobcats shooting 45 percent from two and 25 percent from three-point range. The Knicks were able to effectively shut down Kemba Walker's lanes to the basket for the majority of the game. Walker wasn't able to create off the dribble, which severely stilted the offense overall. The Bobcats can't get Jefferson back soon enough. Another option was desperately needed: someone to throw it to and create their own offense.
Wing play was worrying yet again, with both Jeffrey Taylor and Gerald Henderson both having disappointing games. Taylor chipped in with five points on 2-for-8 shooting from the field and Henderson ended up with 18 points off 7-for-18 field goals. Henderson, like Walker had the bulk of his points come when the game was already decided. Both Henderson and Taylor simply need to be better. Some of their slow start may be duesomewhat to coaching. Both regularly run a side pick and roll, which thus far this season has been a piece of cake for opponents to defend. It would make a lot of sense to run more off the ball, catch and shoot type plays, in my opinion-- especially for Henderson.
Curiously, Ramon Sessions only played 14 minutes, going perfect from the field and ending up with 15 points. There may need to be a rethink in terms of rotation if both Henderson and Taylor continue to struggle. Steve Clifford has said that he is not enamored with playing a small backcourt, but it may be worth experimenting with Kemba and Sessions together more often.
Obviously, I'm going to have to talk about Andrea Bargnani at some point. Andrea Bargnani, who I'm told was the first pick in the 2006 NBA draft, a draft in which I'm pretty sure picking other players was an option. Though, I may be wrong on that, because why would anyone do that? He had 25 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks in this game. Five blocks. This is a stat line that should have some kind of prominent place in the Bobcats locker room for the foreseeable future. I would really, really love to believe that this game was some kind of genius double-bluff in an effort to sabotage the Knicks into giving Bargnani a bigger role. Hey, he can grab 8 rebounds. That's more than would he's pulled down in total in the last five years! Five blocks! Who needs Tyson Chandler.
The reality, though, is that Andrea Bargnani thoroughly dominated a Bobcats team that up to now had looked promising. Try not to have nightmares.