The start was inconsistent. Charlotte won the tip and immediately went to their hottest scorer of late, Gerald Henderson. Henderson, who had 69 points combined in the two previous games on only 34 shots, had eight points in the first quarter, including jumpers capitalizing off ball movement and finding efficient shots in transition. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was even more encouraging on the offensive end. He finished with 11 points, putting his skill set to use by driving to the hoop and finishing through contact, a nice dunk in transition and even a long jumper.
The defense was fairly hot and cold. The rotations were occasionally strong and funneled players into Biyombo's waiting grasp, or at other times Damien Wilkins would soar for an uncontested dunk. Wilkins was able to get into the paint with a decent handle and lacking help defense to score 9 points in the quarter, but the Bobcats forced turnovers and took Philadelphia out of an early rhythm to race to what was at one point a 13-point lead. Henderson's shooting cooled a bit and the 76ers went on a little run to finish the quarter to cut their deficit to nine points.
As the benches entered, the momentum shifted. Jannero Pargo dribbled so long that I grew an assprint into my couch before he put up a contested three that luckily scraped the front rim. Ben Gordon airballed a jump shot as Billy King assuredly smiled from miles away, not even knowing why he did so. They scraped by with the occasional shot but the Sixers eventually tied the game after Spencer Hawes found Royal Ivey for an open three. The disparity in talent for each team from their starters to their reserves was clear: Philadelphia had less of a drop on either end of the court, but the Bobcats fell off like from Jaws to Jaws II. Ben Gordon, in particular, was terrible. He couldn't dribble, he couldn't shoot and he couldn't defend to save his life in the quarter. Having Jeff Adrien as your first big off the bench doesn't help either. Thankfully, the starters returned late in the quarter. Kemba had a nice dish to McRoberts for an and-one and Kidd-Gilchrist had a nice drive to help stay with Philadelphia, who punished the Bobcats' reserves to get a narrow three-point lead at the break. The offense was terrible, as I noted, and the defense was much less encouraging. The rotations were even more lackadaisical and there simply wasn't as much energy and active as it was in the first quarter. They didn't get as many turnovers and got zero points off of turnovers in the second quarter.
As one can expect, the starters reeled the game back from where the reserves left it. The defense was more active, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist continued to do impressive things on offense and Gerald Henderson scored his first points since the first quarter. The small deficit turned back into a lead. Charlotte and Philadelphia passed the lead back and forth for a little bit, though the Bobcats hit a bit of a rough patch with a Biyombo turnover, a Kidd-Gilchrist airball and a defensive three-second violation on MKG on the other end. Gerald Henderson's awakening since the first quarter continued with a three and a floater to give the Bobcats the lead once more. The lead fluttered back and forth between each team, as each struggled to string together decent possessions. One of the night's cooler plays came when Jannero Pargo turned a bumbling play to end the third quarter into a savvy last second bank shot to pull Charlotte within two.
The Bobcats couldn't afford to go without their best starters for much of the fourth quarter. Kidd-Gilchrist had another great and-one to keep the teeter-tottering game within reach. Neither team went on a run whatsoever. They mostly just traded buckets for a while - Ivey had another three but Charlotte stuck in there.
Or so it seemed.
Though it seemed like anyone's game for a while, Charlotte's offense sputtered. There was plenty of time, but momentum seemed to favor Philadelphia. Henderson hit one of two free throws and badly missed a runner in the lane at one point. The defense fared even worse. Jrue Holiday had a sick dunk and followed with a nice turnaround jumper to keep the Bobcats at arm's length. Holiday scored three points in the first three quarters, but ultimately scored 11 in the last period alone. Charlotte's offense suddenly became stymied by Philadelphia's mediocre defense. They didn't get good shots and couldn't keep Philly from even getting to the free throw line. The result was a slow creeping loss that foreshadowed itself leading up to the last minutes as the offense couldn't consistently string together decent possessions.
If there was one thing to sum up the problem in tonight's game, it has to be "consistency." Charlotte's defense never forced as many turnovers as it did in the first quarter. It struggled after that continuously without great results. Holiday bloomed in the fourth and Wilkins never quite turned into a frog from the Prince Charming that he was in the first quarter. And the offense that flourished out of the uptempo pace it had in the first quarter died. The 76ers love a slower pace and the Bobcats had none of that in the first quarter. After that period, well, the pace was at the mercy of the 76ers. Charlotte offense was forced to run more out of the half court and the defense didn't help change that much in the slightest.
Even yet, the Bobcats had some solid positives to take from this game. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was absolutely phenomenal. He had the occasional errant jumper, but his offense was mostly spectacular. He got to the hoop well and used his knowledge of how to create space with his body to finish through contact at the rim. Honestly, can you ask for much more than a 21-point game on 11 FGA from Kidd-Gilchrist with 9 rebounds? I don't think so. Zero assists, steals and blocks is unfortunate, but I'm far less concerned about those things than how impressed I am with the offense he showed. McRoberts played pretty well, as we might become used to, but didn't see the offensive passing opportunities to make for a closer game. He did score fairly well, though. Biyombo also had a nice game on offense with eight points on five attempts and nine rebounds. Gerald Henderson didn't quite have the 30+ points game we hoped for after the last couple matches but he had a decent statline of 19 points (on 18 shots) with 3 rebounds and 7 assists and no turnovers. Kemba Walker had 16 points on 14 shots with 9 assists (and four turnovers, dadburnit), but had an overall nice game, if you ask me. He showed some nice passing skills but struggled with Philadelphia's increases in effort after the first quarter.
And honestly, I'm not completely sure, but I think the main difference between the first quarter and the rest of the game was Philly's effort on defense. To be blunt, the 76ers played defense like they were literally Phily cheese steaks in that first quarter. They were quite terrible. Maybe Doug Collins said something, but they turned things around and pulled this one out against a scrappy Bobcats team. Philadelphia is far from a solid team, but they have some versatility in their talent between their starters and their reserves. Unfortunately, Charlotte couldn't squeeze out the victory, but their young players played pretty well.
I don't know about y'all, but I can sleep happily with that.