The 'Defense wins games' mantra is a tired old cliché painting with broad strokes. Yet as cliché as it is, it has its merits and is ground in truth, at least partially. In today's matinee MLK day performance, this standing refrain of just about every sports championship television montage held true.
Or so I thought.
Those were the very first lines of the recap I started writing when the Bobcats were up 20 points going into the fourth quarter. As the lead dwindled to 15, I stopped writing. I was still not worried but, I didn't want to write too much just in case. It was then a 10-point lead. Shortly after that the lead was cut to 5. I'm writing this as they're only up 3. They just had a shot clock violation.
The Bobcats managed to hold on for the victory by a 100-95 margin but good lord what happened? Everything was going so right, and then it all went so wrong. Had the Bobcats managed to finish that choke job after leading by 30 at one point, it would have been one of the worst losses of the season and arguably franchise history -- non-blowout division, of course. If they were able to keep their lead to the end, it would have been the biggest victory of the season, without Kemba Walker, no less.
The Bobcats took the lead early and took it hard. In the first quarter Al Jefferson already had a double-double. The Raptors looked slow and sluggish, attributes you come to expect during matinee games. The Bobcats, on the other hand, came prepared, outplaying the Raptors in every way early on.
As the Bobcats moved into the second quarter, their long range game caught its rhythm. The Bobcats shot 50 percent from deep in the first half going 4-for-8. Jannero Pargo had two bombs from deep, stepping up to fill a small scoring role with Walker out. The Bobcats were up 55-36 at halftime and looked to have total control.
It was more of the same in the third quarter. The Bobcats hit threes, attacked the rim and played some incredible defense. The Raptors didn't break 50 points until about three minutes left in the quarter. The Bobcats were cruising high on cloud nine up 30 points. But as the quarter came to a close they took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and the Raptors managed to get it down to 20.
The Bobcats never put their foot back on the gas. The Raptors' comeback was on. The Raptors went 7-for-20 from deep in the second half. Steve Novak made every single 3-pointer he attempted. They outscored the Bobcats 54 to 29 following the moment the Bobcats peaked with their 30-point lead. Toronto scored 35 in the fourth quarter alone. With the lead down to 13, Steve Clifford called a timeout to put in the rest of the starters, who had been resting. Later when it was evident that alone wasn't enough, Clifford burned through multiple timeouts to try and get his players to get it together, to no avail. The lead was down to 3 points and under 3 minutes left. I honestly thought they were going to completely blow the 30 point lead. With about 25 seconds left Kyle Lowry got fouled and hit a falling shot to pull the Raptors within one. He was going to the line to tie the game. Shockingly, he missed the free throw. The Bobcats managed to get one more stop, and Charlotte rode the rest of the game out on free throws.
I tried to figure out how the Bobcats almost blew that lead and I just can't. As bad as the bench is, it can hold a 30 point lead. This is a well-coached and disciplined team so when you see them go up a huge margin, even without their best player, you assume that they're going to hold on. Watching that lead steadily go down was really surprising. I knew the team had the ability to blow leads, as we've seen a lot of this season, but never a lead that big. I guess it's just safe to say we can't assume any lead is safe with this team.