As if keeping it close against the Miami Heat isn't a silver lining in itself, it also took an almost-perfect night from LeBron James to close out the Bobcats. If there ever was an appropriate time to use the words "moral victory" this would be it.
Byron Mullens returned to action tonight, and in his first game since Christmas he managed to score 12 points and grab nine rebounds. More importantly, his presence provided an instant boost for the team. His floor spacing and energy were something that the Cats had seriously missed.
Charlotte opened the game with a nice fade-away jumper from Jeff Adrien. In classic Bobcats fashion, they followed up the next two possessions with a foul and a Kemba Walker air ball from deep. Luckily for the team, Jeff Adrien wasn't quite done yet. He would score eight of the Bobcats first 12 points, but unfortunately for him, he wouldn't see the ball drop into the basket again.
Foul trouble was a constant problem for Charlotte tonight, perhaps marking the facet of the game the Bobcats missed Michael Kidd-Gilchrist the most. Jeff Taylor picked up two quick fouls trying to guard LeBron in the post. While having a rookie check the best player in the game isn't always the best bet to take, head coach Mike Dunlap wasn't left with many options. He wouldn't be the only Bobcat in foul trouble as Kemba Walker and Ben Gordon would both pick up early fouls, forcing Dunlap to be creative with his lineups for the rest of the game. However, just like the Heat would find a way to win, Dunlap would find a way to keep Tyrus Thomas glued to the bench.
The problem of guarding LeBron James persisted throughout the evening. Any double-teams the club tried instantly led to open shots for teammates. And yet, the sometimes-man, sometimes-video game was far too efficient to be left in the hands of Gerald Henderson and Jeff Taylor alone. LeBron would finish the game with 31 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds ... business as usual, right? Wrong. He would shoot 13-14 from the field, missing a layup in the fourth quarter that could have easily been considered a foul. What did he have to say about his performance? "I knew how important this game was." The Miami Heat may have sleepwalked through this game, but not more than LeBron sleep-walked through that interview.
The Bobcats were pushing the pace early, which seems like a disastrous thing to do against the Heat, but thanks to Ramon Sessions filling in admirably, it played right into the hands of Charlotte, allowing the Bobcats to stay in the game.
Another factor that kept the team within striking distance is Miami's long-standing tradition of making their opponents look like rebounding monsters. While the final stats will show that the Bobcats only won the rebound battle by one, it's undeniable that their early domination on the glass allowed them to stay in the game. If not for Dwyane Wade's season-high six offensive rebounds to go with his total of twelve, Charlotte may have come out victorious.
A night of statistical outliers wasn't just limited to the big 3. Shane Battier registered what many believe to be his first dunk of the season tonight.
What killed the Bobcats more than anything tonight were points off turnovers. The Miami Heat held a nine-point advantage in that department with 21 points off of 16 turnovers. Possibly the Cats' biggest saving grace was the Heat's uncharacteristically terrible night from beyond the arc. They made just one three-pointer out of twelve attempts, as opposed to the twelve threes the nailed the last time these two teams faced off.
The Bobcats, as everyone loves to remind fans, are one of the worst teams in the league at defending the three point shot. Tonight's statistical discrepancies refused to regress, or progress to the mean.
Anyway, the two teams played to a stalemate up until late in the fourth quarter. After Sessions tied the game in the progress of a 10-0 run, the Heat responded with a 14-2 run of their own. A Ben Gordon and-one, courtesy of Dwyane Wade would have the Bobcats within 2 in the closing minutes. However, that would be the closest they would get. With just over a minute to go, Byron Mullens bobbled a rebound which turned into a Chris Bosh dunk, marking the point on the game where the Bobcats Bobbed (I'm trying to make this a thing, just play along).
The Charlotte Bobcats, dropping to 11-36 tonight, will visit Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers in LeBron's former stomping grounds this Wednesday (which also marks your new favourite* writers birthday, you can email me for information regarding where to send presents).
(Ed. - *Shout-out to Canada)