Coming into Saturday night's game at home against the Detroit Pistons, the Charlotte Bobcats had an excellent chance to extend their two-game win streak to three. This game really had one of two potential outcomes: an even, back-and-forth game or an abomination in the eye of the basketball Gods. Fortunately, this game leaned towards the former, but the Bobcats eventually found themselves unable to keep up with their opponent by the time the final buzzer sounded.
The first quarter started off looking like it might be a long night as the Pistons out-rebounded and out-hustled the Bobcats to a 9-0 lead. Until about the three minute mark, the Bobcats' offense struggled to find its rhythm, due in part to poor spacing. However, the catalyst for their own 9-0 run would be nothing other than Josh McRoberts taking Jason Maxiel off of the dribble for the Bobcats' first points. The key to the 9-0 was defense, and Gerald Henderson's in particular seemed to be the key factor in that. For instance, if Henderson lapsed on a rotation that lead to a made basket, the Bobcats would be lulled into playing the Pistons' game by allowing them to set up on the other end. However, when he was active by forcing steals and altering shots, the Bobcats were able to get the ball up court before the defense could get themselves set and get easy baskets. Henderson had a chance to affect this game from the get-go given his size advantage on Brandon Knight, too.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, McRoberts was taken to the trainer's room to have his left shoulder looked at, but would return later in the game. Despite a pair of threes by Detroit's Jose Calderon and sub-40% shooting, the Bobcats took a 24-23 lead into the second frame, and the team was just three quarters away from a three-game winning streak.
After Jonas Jerebko made two foul shots to start the scoring in the second quarter, Jannero Pargo hit a long two to reclaim the lead. The Bobcats kept their offense rolling as Jeffrey Taylor hit a three at the other end to push the lead to four. As the Pistons got offensive contributions from players like Charlie Villanueva and Khris Middleton, the Bobcats did this from about 8:45 to 7:00 in the second: Taylor, miss; Pargo, miss; Mullens, bad pass; Taylor, miss; Gordon, bad pass. However, thanks to a Gerald Henderson and-one, the Bobcats were still able to be tied 32-32, and it be came hard to tell if this was a good game or not. With under three minutes to go in the first half, the Bobcats were able to push the lead up to 43-38 thanks in part to the aggressive play of their guards.
The Bobcats led 50-47 at the half led by Gerald Henderson who had nine of his 13 points in the second quarter. The Pistons had good ball movement in the first half with 17 assists on 17 made baskets. Kemba also finished the first half in double figures.
Henderson continued his aggressive play, stripping Maxiell down on the block, and also incidentally bailing out Byron Mullens who was out of position defending him. The Bobcats could not take advantage of this on the other end though as Kyle Singler snagged the defensive rebound for Detroit. This led to a possession where Brandon Knight saw what was likely his first NBA triple team as the Bobcats sent the cavalry to close out on him at the top of the key. Unfortunately, Knight swiftly fired a pass to Maxiell for the dunk. Other than that "gimme" dunk by Maxiell, the Bobcats forced the Pistons into wasted possessions through turnovers and blocked shots (including MKG blocking Greg Monroe) while continuing to attack the basket offensively, giving them a 63-55 lead halfway through the third.
At the five minute mark Kemba's jumper made it a ten point lead -- their largest of the night to this point -- as a part of an 11-2 run. However, a Singler layup and some consecutive Maxiell buckets would bring the lead back down to four with three minutes to go.
The events that unfolded over the next two-and-a-half minutes are not exaggerated in anyway. Jannero Pargo traded buckets with Maxiell, then Jerbko, then Stuckey and then Singler as the Bobcats closed the third quarter up by seven. Thanks to Pargo? Yeah! Thanks to Pargo!
Well, the "Give it to Pargo" offense turned out to be unsustainable as the Pistons came out in the fourth quarter trapping him at the top. This led to minutes of stagnated offense filled with mostly bad Ben Gordon decisions. I've been throwing some variations of the word "stagnate" around a few times tonight to describe the offense, haven't I? But it's for a good reason. Save for a pair of Jeff Adrien free throws, the Bobcats' first field goal didn't come until McRobert's just over five minutes into the quarter.
In the mean time, Charlie Villanueva put up 11 points in less than six minutes, and the Bobcats were once again playing from behind. Their offense had devolved into bad threes by Mullens and Gordon (which is the exact opposite of what got them the lead in the first place), while Kemba continued to attack the rim. At this point, I noticed something was amiss as Villanueva was launching bombs from deep: there was no MKG.
There had to be a reason.
Maybe he got hurt? Nope.
Maybe he was having a worse game than I thought and/or in foul trouble? Nope-- 11-3-2 on 4-7 shooting with 3 blocks and ZERO fouls.
Maybe because Dunlap favors veterans late in the game? Nu-uh. Taylor, Kemba, and Biz all remained in the game as the lead dwindled and Charlie V became a Detroit folkhero.
Maybe Dunlap was thinking of going small? The Bobcats aren't a small team, but McRoberts-Biz-Taylor-Henderson-Kemba isn't even small for them.
All of the above is what I don't understand. By all accounts, MKG did not get hurt. Nor was he struggling. Instead, he had to watch as the veterans gave the game away. Instead of throwing a bigger body on Villanueva to slow him down, Dunlap takes out Pargo to put in...wait for it...Jeff Taylor. Now, Taylor is a bigger body than Pargo, and a capable defender, but he struggled with his shot all night whereas MKG wasn't struggling with his. That substitution may have been more perplexing than the one prior that put Pargo-Kemba-Henderson on the court at the same time. Sure, Kemba nearly willed them to a win in the closing minutes with seven points in the last few minutes, and McRoberts nearly made a tough layup at the buzzer, but the point is that they had a seven-point lead coming into the quarter and lost it.
I guess rotations are a topic for another post, but the Bobcats had a chance to put together a late-season three-game winning streak and roll into Miami tomorrow. That, of course, is no morale booster or consolation by any means. It's always frustrating to see winnable games get away like that, but give credit to the Pistons for sticking in it and not letting the game get away from them.
If you outplay your opponent for most of the game, you should win. If you don't, it doesn't do much good to dwell on it.