For the first half of tonight's game against the Heat, the Bobcats actually played very well, leading 60-53 at halftime. Then the biggest story of the game happened: Kemba Walker rolled his ankle on a fastbreak and left the game. X-rays were negative, thankfully, but he had to be helped off the court, and it did not appear to be the type of injury where he'd be playing again soon. I'm sad, and I feel terrible.
But there was still a game that was played, and the Bobcats did play very well in the first half, even if it proved unsustainable, especially without Walker on the court. Al Jefferson and Ramon Sessions had to lead the way, and it resulted in only 30 second-half points. While the Bobcats had a season-high in team assists with 31, the ball movement really did stall in the second half, although some strong off-ball cuts led to quality drives to the basket by Sessions and open looks from the arc for Anthony Tolliver.
Kemba's injury, of course, is going to cause a lot of issues, especially for a team that plays well (for the East) when completely healthy, and had looked strong since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's recent return from injury. If it keeps him out long-term, the Bobcats might look for help elsewhere, as Jannero Pargo doesn't seem fit for a regular NBA role anymore. Kemba is the key to this team's success for many reasons, and having to give quality minutes to Pargo (and the starter's minutes to Sessions), without another point guard on the roster would be tough for this team to handle. In addition to losing their leading scorer, their leading assist man, their leading stealer ... oh, who am I kidding, that's more than enough to set back a team that had probably already been overachieving based on their talent level. If we're lucky, Walker won't be out for longer than a couple weeks. If he's out for longer, they're going to need to make some changes if they want to stick to their plan of competing for a playoff spot rather than "tanking," or just riding out a young roster for one more season in anticipation of what could be one of the deepest NBA drafts of all time.
It was bad. It was a bad game, made worse by the fact that they blew a fairly large second-half lead and looked hapless post-injury. Let's get to some player grades. (ed. hey, I thought it was a pretty fun game up until overtime! - Ben)
Josh McRoberts: McRoberts finished with 10 points, mostly due to knocking down two of his four three-point attempts. His six assists helped the team's season-high in passing competency, but his two total rebounds compounded an issue that this team has had this season, especially when the starting lineup is on the court, in the lack of rebounding from the power forward position. He also had a bad turnover in a really inopportune situation down the stretch. The good probably outweighed the bad for him in this game, though, but he's not a player without his issues. Grade: C+
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: MKG played really strong defense on LeBron James, which is almost impossible to do. Of course, it's LeBron, so he still hit more shots than not and got to the free-throw line. LeBron did go for a long stretch -- the entire second quarter and most of the third -- without making a field goal, but when Anthony Tolliver replaced MKG, James was dominant on offense again. That's not really a criticism of Tolliver, as I don't expect a bench player to be able to guard the best basketball player in the world, but a statement of support for how great MKG already is on defense. He battled foul trouble in the first half and then played about six minutes the rest of the game, all at the beginning of the third quarter. Clifford said he made this decision because of Tolliver's ability to space the offense compared to Kidd-Gilchrist's. Grade: B
Al Jefferson: Al Jefferson missed a lot of shots, more than he made, finishing with 22 points on 10-23 shooting from the floor. He got a good amount of rebounds (14), passed well, and didn't turn the ball over, which was a positive. But when he has bad nights on defense, he has to play within his role of making his shots, because he's going to take a lot. Tonight he didn't do that, and it had a negative impact on the team. Grade: C
Kemba Walker: Sigh. Kemba had six assists in the first quarter alone, and finished with eight in 22 minutes. He had an off-night for shooting, going only 1-for-7, but got to the line and didn't turn the ball over. I'm still too sad to say anything more. We miss you already, Kemba. Grade: Get Well Soon
Gerald Henderson: 4-for-11 for 11 points, three rebounds, five assists, five fouls, two steals, a block, a steal and a -18 net rating. Is this the most Gerald Henderson line possible? Grade: C+
Anthony Tolliver: Tolliver gets so many minutes (he played 37 tonight) for two reasons: he can shoot the deep ball, and he can defend multiple positions. He shot well again tonight, 4-for-7 (including 3-for-6 from three) for 11 points, and shouldered a lot of the load defensively. The issue was that, like all but five or so players in the league, he's going to struggle when covering LeBron James, so a lot of points were given up during the fourth quarter. I have a hard time faulting him for a coaching decision (playing Tolliver with a lead down the stretch instead of Kidd-Gilchrist), so my grade won't be too harsh, but the limits of his game were shown tonight. Grade: B-
Cody Zeller: Zeller had a fairly decent statistical line, but he looked so very incompetent on so many individual possessions. It was nice seeing him make a mid-range jumper for the first time in what feels like months (I have been known to exaggerate), but he was totally lost on defense and couldn't contribute much to the offense again. It's been a rough learning curve for Zeller, but hopefully he will look at the video of this game to see the many areas where he can improve. Grade: D+
Bismack Biyombo: It pains me emotionally to see Biyombo only play ten minutes yet again. In those ten minutes, he had one of his best games of the year, shooting 3-for-3 for seven points (one was an and-one situation), grabbing three rebounds, blocking a shot and playing strong defense underneath his own basket. It's time to give him more minutes in competitive games. He plays well while he's in the game, and he's often better than the other options on the Bobcats to play the same position or role. Grade: B+
Ramon Sessions: Sessions really did try his hardest tonight. He was able to get by a lot of Miami defenders for easy looks at the basket, taking only three of his 10 field goal attempts from outside of the paint and finishing with a 6-for-10 mark for 16 points. The issue for him, again, was turnovers, giving up the ball five times -- in comparison to his five assists. I actually like the Walker-Sessions backcourt, because I think Sessions is more suited for a shooting guard role rather than the primary ballhandler and distributor. It's going to be rough for as long as he's the starting point guard in light of Kemba's injury. Grade: B
Chris Douglas-Roberts: He played for six minutes, made his only shot, a three, and played adequate defense. So he didn't do much, but it was all in a positive direction. Grade: B-
Ben Gordon and Jannero Pargo: They didn't play tonight, but these are the next two guards off the bench after the minutes are shifted following Kemba's injury. Be prepared.