This is the Charlotte Bobcats' first winning "streak" since their unexpected 6-4 start to the season. Remember the day. Your grandchildren will ask you where you were when the Bobcats won two games in a row. And if they don't, you haven't brainwashed them well enough.
The man I love to hate -- Byron Mullens -- had himself a terrific game off of the bench and led the team with a fairly efficient 25 points. Everyone's favorite Bobcat, Gerald Henderson, was right behind Mullens with an equally efficient 21 points. Yes, I just used the word efficient to describe not one Bobcat, but two. And really, only Kemba Walker and Jeff Taylor struggled to score tonight. Everyone else shot well above their season averages.
There are some reasons for this, but I don't fully understand them. If you watched tonight's game, I'm sure you felt like the Bobcats were a different team. A better team. A good team. It was quite bizarre, honestly. They moved exceptionally well on offense, hustled on defense, and quite frankly, played much harder than the Toronto Raptors did.
On the other hand, the Raptors played pretty poorly for most of the game. While the margin was less than six more often than not, it never really felt like the Raptors could win. Their offense was bad, and the majority of their made baskets were flukey. The Raptors jacked 22 3-pointers, the most of them heavily contested or off-balance, and made only five. This is in stark contrast to the Bobcats' 16 attempts and eight makes. I told you, this is a different team.
While his numbers are certainly less impressive than Henderson's and Mullens', Josh McRoberts was without a doubt the most valuable player in this win. McBob finished with 12 points, 12 rebounds, and three assists, but his presence was what won the Bobcats this game. He set the tone in the second quarter, setting great screens and hitting open players with terrific passes. He even got into a bit of a scuffle with the Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas after Valanciunas unintentionally hit McBob in the back while coming down from a dunk. McBob continues to be the surprise of the season for the Bobcats, and there is growing sentiment among fans and the front office that he should be re-signed to a long-term deal. I agree wholeheartedly.
Here's the number that really stands out to me: the Bobcats had 21 assists tonight. When you factor in that they also shot 40(!) free throws, it's pretty obvious that the Bobcats moved the ball extremely well whether you watched the game or not. Hendo had five assists, bringing his average over the last seven games to just under four assists per game. Walker also chipped in with eight assists of his own, welcome production on a night that he shot 29% from the field.
Now that we've covered the game, I'd like to talk about some of the changes I noticed tonight.
Because I live in Toronto, I always get the Raptors' video feed when Charlotte plays them. I actually like this a lot, because it gives me insight into what the rest of the league thinks of Charlotte. In the second quarter, the Raptors' color analysts talked about McBob for nearly ten minutes, praising him for his play as well as talking about him generally. They brought up some very valid points that I'd like to share with you.
Leo Rautins believes that McBob's been on five teams in six years not because he's not talented or a handful in the locker room, but because he's ahead of his time, and coaches don't know how to use him. This is true in some ways. When you look at the teams he's played for, and more specifically, the coaches he's played for, it becomes clear that his skill set has never been exploited until this season. McBob can play in a strict system, but he shouldn't play in a strict system. McBob is most effective when left to his own devices, which, unfortunately for him, only used to happen at the end of the clock. In Charlotte, Mike Dunlap trusts him to orchestrate the offense from the perimeter or high post, and McBob has thrived in this role. He's a point forward, and teams have been reluctant to use him as such.
Another thing I noticed was that the Bobcats have this new "butt tapping" thing they do on defense. When a player wants to switch match-ups with another player because of a screen, a mismatch, or a defensive rotation, they've begun to tap each other on the butt. Now, while this may seem like a meaningless development, this is HUGE. It'd be one thing if the Bobcats were solid defensively. But they're not. And this "butt tapping" thing shows that they're not only committed to defense, but committed to playing together. I have no idea how Dunlap or Jordan or some other front office entity convinced the players to do this, but I frigging love it. The Bobcats' defense was phenomenal tonight, and this is a big reason why.
Next up, Mullens. I've always disliked Mullens because I've never been impressed with his defense, and his offense isn't good enough to compensate for his lack of defensive ability. However, the Mullens we saw tonight was encouraging. Sure, he only played 27 minutes. Sure, he only grabbed five rebounds. But he scored 25 points -- on ELEVEN shots. I've never seen Mullens as starting material, and I'm glad he's excelled coming off of the bench. The Bobcats' bench has been shallow for years, and Mullens gives them options they haven't had in a long time. Admittedly, I don't expect Mullens to continue to score this well. He's not a great 3-point shooter, and getting to the line 12 times is quite the aberration. Still, the Bobcats now have three decent scorers coming off of the bench in Mullens, Ben Gordon, and when he's healthy, Ramon Sessions.
All in all, this game was a pleasure to watch. Many times this season, Ben has sent me texts saying "Sorry for assigning you that game" when the Bobcats get blown out by 35 points. I usually get those games. But tonight, I was blessed with a great game, and one that looks to give the Bobcats some momentum going forward.
I can always nitpick and complain about this team. Always. But I won't. It doesn't feel right. The team came out with a great win over a quality opponent, and finally have a winning streak.
The future looks brighter than it usually does.