This game had a weird feeling to it, too. As Mike Scott and Paul Millsap said postgame, they've seen Pero Antic practice that one-legged three-pointer a ton in practice. If you want to re-live the exciting, heart-wrenching play from a Bobcats perspective, check out the GIF below. Antic's wild three here saved the Hawks by tying the game with three seconds remaining in regulation, sending it to overtime.
Heading into the game, Atlanta had just lost Al Horford -- the main cog of Atlanta's system -- and had to go with Elton Brand and Antic for most of the game. Also, DeMarre Carroll was questionable with a thumb injury (game-time decision, started), so the Bobcats had some edge that way.
Outside of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffery Taylor's injuries, the Bobcats were relatively healthy. In that category, I would say edge Bobcats.
Anyways, excluding health, one of the main things I wanted to focus on was Steve Clifford's major effect on the Bobcats' defensive success. I spoke to Kemba Walker about this, and what he had to say was a little eye-opening: "Just willing to do it."
He went on to talk about how Clifford has impacted the team as a whole, but I want to pause for a moment and talk about that one little blurb Walker said. I'm finally glad Kemba is willing to play defense. Sure, he isn't the best, but he's finally starting to show some true flashes in Clifford's defense. I, for one, am glad Clifford is coaching in Charlotte instead of Mike Dunlap and Paul Silas.
The defense wasn't all there tonight, but it caused a lot of havoc. They forced 14 turnovers, and kept Kyle Korver at bay for most of the game.
What a game by Al Jefferson tonight, by the way. 24 points and 23 rebounds? Monster performance, which should put him in the discussion for a reserve spot on the All-Star team. Without Horford's presence down-low, Big Al had his way with smaller players such as Millsap, Antic and Brand.
If Jefferson can continue to churn-out performances like these, I expect Charlotte to stay in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference (4-6 seed) throughout the season.
Now, lets get to the grades -- and some more quotes -- from Saturday night's thriller.
Anthony Tolliver: Tolliver got the start tonight and played well in his return to Atlanta. Used as a floor-spacer out on the perimeter -- as he always is -- he was effective in spots. Tolliver ended up taking 9 three-point shots, which actually wasn't all that bad. Grade: B
Josh McRoberts: This number I'm shocked about: a +/- ratio for McRoberts of +12. That was right up there in the +/- territory of Millsap (+13), and even higher than Jefferson's (0). It must have been those 9 assists, I guess. Outside of those dishes to his teammates, McRoberts was pretty inefficient on both sides of the floor. He finished 2-for-8 on the night, and 1-for-6 from three. On defense, he was one of a few Bobcats obliterated by Millsap -- who finished with 33 points against McRoberts, Zeller and Jefferson (rarely). A clutch three-pointer to help Charlotte in the fourth quarter, and his assist numbers saved him from getting a really bad grade. Grade: C
Al Jefferson: As I said above, what else could Jefferson not have done tonight? It was his best performance of the season, by far as he bullied Hawks players down low. As Jefferson told me in the locker room, he said going against his former teammate (Millsap) was "just another game." I'm sure Big Al would've said more if this was a win, as he was pretty short with the media tonight. Either way, the best performance of the year for Jefferson gives him an A on the night. Grade: A
Gerald Henderson: The Bobcats are starting to get the good version of Gerald Henderson on a nightly basis now, which should make fans ecstatic. He finished with 22 points on 11-for-17 shooting, five rebounds and four assists. On a few occasions, he got burned late on defense by Louis Williams -- which were back-breakers when Atlanta made their run. With that, I couldn't give Gerald an A, but an A- is well worth it with his numbers. Grade: A-
Kemba Walker: If Charlotte had good Kemba tonight, I think Charlotte wins by double-digits. Unfortunately, we got the bad Kemba. He was 4-for-20 field goal shooting, and looked lethargic on defense against Jeff Teague, who had 20 points. Also, during the key possession where the Bobcats were only down two with under a minute to go, Walker called off Jefferson in the post and it led to a missed shot. Jefferson was dominant all night, so why would you call him off? Overall, just throw this one in the dumpster if you're Coach Clifford and hope to see Walker make some positive strides in the next few games. Grade: D
Cody Zeller: Paul Millsap just officially welcomed Cody Zeller to the NBA on the defensive end. He abused Zeller all night, and he had no answer at all. Anything Zeller tried to do different, Millsap would just easily slice through it. The rookie from Indiana got in foul trouble early, and finished with five total. Zeller also missed many opportunities at the rim on offensive rebounds. It was a nightmarish night for Zeller. Grade: F
Bismack Biyombo: Hey now, this was an efficient game for Bismack Biyombo tonight. In his 11 minutes on the court, he was perfect from the field (1-for-1), and the free-throw line (4-4). Biyombo also added in three rebounds and two blocks. He did not get called for many fouls either, so I wondered why Clifford turned to him so late -- and even decided to put Zeller back in after his defensive presence was felt out there. Not a bad night at all, Bismack. Grade: A
Chris Douglas-Roberts: In the second half, Chris Douglas-Roberts came up walking gingerly after falling hard to the floor on a layup. He shook it off, but it looked like he wasn't as aggressive after that happened. Douglas-Roberts got a lot of minutes tonight, with Atlanta's small-ball lineups with Horford out. CDR brought some length on the defensive end, and brought some energy on offense. He finished with 7 points, 5 rebounds and a steal. This was an under-the-radar performance from Douglas-Roberts on Saturday night. Grade: B+
Ramon Sessions: Ramon Sessions once again was a spark plug for Charlotte off the bench. In 20 minutes, he scored 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting. He also added four assists and three rebounds to his stat sheet. In the preseason roundtable, I was one who thought Ramon Sessions would be one of the first out the door with his expiring contract, but he's definitely proving me wrong thus far. These types of offensive bursts are becoming the norm for Sessions. He's a key piece to this team as an offensive playmaker. Grade: A
Ben Gordon: In his limited time, Gordon brought some offensive punch. He scored 7 points on 3-for-6 shooting, including one three-pointer. Not really much to say about Gordon, outside of that. All fans can hope is that he can stay more consistent every game. It was an in-between kind of performance for Gordon on Saturday night. Grade: B-
Steve Clifford: I can't blame Coach Clifford for being angry after the Bobcats let a win slip through their fingers. His presser with the media only lasted about 80 seconds. Here's what Clifford had to say about losing their 16-point lead:
"We have to play every play. We give up too many possessions. We're up 16 and we have a play where we have a guy drive the ball, thinks he gets fouled, doesn't run back when he doesn't get the call, and Lou Williams hits a three. That's a big play. The good teams don't do that. That's about attitude."
Clifford had some good schemes tonight to combat the Hawks' reliance on perimeter shooting. They focused on Korver, and held him to a pretty low figure (8 points on 3-for-11 shooting). Unfortunately, that extra attention to Korver brought some great performances from Williams and Scott from behind the arc. On offense, Clifford stayed with feeding Jefferson most of night, which was smart. The coaching from Clifford was there tonight, but too many mental mistakes from the players, as he mentioned in the quote above, caused Charlotte the victory. I would say Clifford deserves not an A, but a high B for his coaching alone tonight. Grade: B+