Although much of the league won’t be paying much attention to the goings on in Charlotte tonight, this game should be billed as a preview of the future of the NBA. The matchup features a pair of teams which, because of varied circumstances, are in the midst of constructing “future dynasties.” Both are packed with young, raw, talent. Both have energy to burn. Both teams have also found the road to piling up wins in pro hoops is a rocky one at best. Cleveland, one season deeper into franchise reconstruction triggered by the exit of He Who Shall Not Be Named, should be one season better, if one applies logic to a situation better measured by pure human desire. Charlotte is buoyed by the return of the seemingly constantly injured Tyrus Thomas. Did he provide the spark to his teammates that led them to a second victory in a row or did his rustiness slow the Felines down? The answer to this and many more questions is but a click away.
The first quarter was largely the CJ Miles show and the Cats couldn’t find a way to stop the man. The Cats didn’t quite collapse into coughing up one of their notorious 30-points-plus defensive disasters, but it was a near-miss thing. At one point the Cavs tore off a 12-2 run with Miles raining in nine of said points. The score at the end of the first, 29-23 Cavs.
Early in the second Ben Gordon found the range that he’d lost track of in recent games and started hitting his treys and jumpers, but it had little impact as Cleveland continued to score with such regularity it was as if the Bobcats were imitating cardboard cutouts of basketball players. One thing fans at Time Warner Cable Arena aren’t used to seeing is another team coming in and out-running our hometown heroes, but the Cavs took advantage of steals and fast breaks to race out to a 16-point lead. Meanwhile the Cats started looking leaden at both ends of the court. Finally, some crisp passing at the offensive end led to a Gerald Henderson three pointer that seemed to ignite some energy into the gang. A minute later however, Dion Waiters picked Gordon’s pocket out on the perimeter for yet another quick Cleveland bucket and Ben came up favoring his right knee.
Fortunately, when you spend about 20 minutes shooting the lights out your shooting percentage can go nowhere but down. Cleveland hit an inevitable cold streak offensively and Gerald Henderson continued to catch fire from beyond the arc hitting a pair of quick treys and the Cats slowly began to battle their way back into contention. As the game drew to just under three minutes before the half Charlotte had crept to within seven on the strength of a 10-0 run. Ramon Sessions suddenly seemed to be everywhere at once, handing out a half-dozen assists while scoring six points of his own.
It was at that moment that the Cavs discovered that the best cure for a team averaging 93 points per game is a trip to Charlotte. The Cats had yet another spell of performing more like a still photograph than an active defense and the first half ended with the Cavs stretching back out to a more comfortable lead of 14 points. Once again, the Cats defensive lapses allowed a weak team to pour in over 30 points in a single quarter, this time giving up 33 in the second. Halftime score showed Cleveland well in control 62-48.
Any of y’all that regularly read my articles and recaps here at TSP know what I’m going to say here. Let’s just pretend I said it and move on. For those of you new to the TSP recap experience I’ll just say that until this team manages to display consistent defensive intensity it will remain near the bottom of the standings. CJ Miles continued to score at will with 15 points at the half. It would have been more but for a reversed decision on a buzzer-beater that went from being a trey to a deuce upon review.
Shortly after the third began, they showed a shot of Coach Dunlap pacing the bench. It was very telling. His arms were tightly folded and he looked as if he’d just bitten into a sweet golden delicious apple and discovered ½ of a worm. He looked like his 3 bran muffin dinner had all kicked in at once. He looked like he’d just hit some fine hand-rolled blend of catnip and oregano. He looked like… let’s face it, the man looked greener than a Benjamin. Watching the Charlotte defense in inaction, who could blame him? Cleveland was shooting a torrid .58% and the Bobcats, trailing by 18 points at the six minute mark, could be seen joking and laughing with each other as they left a timeout huddle. If the players don’t sweat getting schooled why should the coach – OR the fans? There was a time when a performance like that would result in a certain former member of the Chicago Bulls waiting in the locker room and acting like… well, a Bull in a china shop. His Airness has been conspicuously quiet regarding the performance of his athletes this season. One has to wonder why. Don’t ask me what’s between the lines there. I’m not sure I have an answer and I don’t believe any of us would like it much if I did. The Cats did succeed in shaving a bit of the lead away by the end of the third. The Cavs were still out in front 86-74.
The final frame began and it was all Bobcats. The run that everyone that’s ever watched a basketball game knew was coming was in full effect and the Felines brawled their way to within six by scoring six in the first two minutes before Tristan Thompson quieted the house with the first Cleveland points of the quarter. For the next several minutes it seemed as if neither team had an interest in scoring the ball. Ben Gordon did a respectable impersonation of a Radio City Music Hall Rockette as he traveled into the lane. Tristan Thompson ran halfway to the Cavs locker room carrying the ball out of bounds. Putting it bluntly, it looked like at any moment the game was going to turn into an extended Laverne and Shirley or I Love Lucy routine.
As much as the first quarter belonged to Miles, Ben Gordon just plain took over the game in the fourth. He was relentless and all but single-handedly propelled his team to within a point of the lead. Ramon Sessions picked up a foul in the point and the Bobcats retook the lead as Sessions nailed both shots from the NBA Charity Center. At that point Gordon had merely rained in two dozen points off the bench. It’s getting harder all the time to find any of the throng of people that were screaming their heads off when Cho brought Ben Gordon to town. I guess their all waiting in line to get their Gordon game shirts, caps, and assorted other gear at the game shop.
Not known for being a man to shun the spotlight, Kyrie Irving came to life and started popping in shots from behind the arc and it was war on Trade Street. Cleveland decided to pay attention to the scouting report and opted to slow the Cats down by forcing them to the free throw line to win or lose it at the stripe. I think they missed some of the fine print however, as they kept putting Ramon Sessions on the line as opposed to say, Brendan Haywood. Sessions used his time at the line to rest and shoot 12 for 12. With just over two-and-a-half minutes left the teams were knotted up at 100 points each. Yes, that’s right. Even Cleveland can cap the century mark when they play the Cats.
Tyrus Thomas didn’t make much noise over the course of the game, but with one minute left in the game he held his ground and made the defensive play of the night. A scorching hot Kyrie Irving drove the lane and plowed right into the firmly planted Tyrus. Offensive foul Cleveland.
With Charlotte trailing by a pair with 16 seconds left, Gerald Henderson posted up, swung out into the paint and holed a miniature version of the Jabbar sky hook to tie it up yet again. With one second left, Kyrie Irving scored with the Charlotte defense so far up in his face it looked like they were waxing his eyebrows. Coach Dunlap burned his last timeout and the Cats took possession in the frontcourt. Cleveland played some tight defense and Gerald Henderson rimmed out an off-balance trey as the clock expired. The “blink and you missed it” winning streak was over and yet another Charlotte loss that never should have happened was in the books. Final score – Cleveland 106, Charlotte 104.
Trivia question for you…
What do Dudley DoRight’s Nell, Underdog’s Sweet Polly Purebread, a ninety-nine-year-old great-grandmother, and the Charlotte Bobcats all have in common? Don’t worry, I’m gonna give you the answer. They’re all utterly defenseless and in need of a hero to save them.
The Bobcats will use Saturday to travel up to Michigan for yet another game against a team they should whup up on. After the toughest stretch of schedule any team in the league will face this season, the Cats are in the middle of a batch of games that, on paper at least, most teams would pray for. The Pistons are another squad that has already lost more than 20 games thus far and Sunday should have represented a great chance for Charlotte to extend their win streak to three. Instead, we’ll face former Bobcats player Corey Maggette and company looking at what feels like the umpteenth attempt to regroup after a heartbreaking loss.
Once again, scoring was not the problem for the Felines with Kemba Walker, Jeffery Taylor (11 each), and Gerald Henderson (17) scoring in double-digits as starters and Gordon (27) and Sessions (20) tearing it up off the bench. We hit 22 of 28 free throws which, while not quite excellent, meant we didn’t leave much at the stripe. We out-rebounded the Cavs as well. Our problem is as obvious as Dolly Parton’s ability to nurse every infant in Tennessee. The Cavs average just less than 93 points per game. Tonight they bested that figure by more than a dozen. It’s axiomatic. Offense can win games, but defense can win championships. We have the worst defense in the league. Coach Dunlap can refer to his style as “run & gun,” or “rack to rim” or whatever he wants to. It doesn’t matter. What it really is, no matter how you label it, is 40% of what it takes to win. Without a firm commitment to defense it has been and will continue to be – a firing squad execution. The other teams simply shoot us to death without so much as a blindfold and cigarette, let alone a last meal. Is the cure a new coach? Or do we need to find the best available defense-minded young player in free agency? We got Gordon because it was assumed that our draft choices were defensive specialists that would need a couple of seasons each to learn how to score points in the NBA. Cho went after someone who could produce points in a hurry. Suddenly, our litter of “Bobkittens” has developed shooting game early. Biz gets into instant foul trouble the moment he tries to bear down on D. MKG and Taylor have the standard donkey-butt luck when it comes to being NBA rookies. The calls always seem to go the other way. Our barely-veteran backcourt can’t be expected to help out the bigs in the paint and defend the perimeter at the same time and the league has become more dependent on the three-point arc for production with each passing season. It’s time to bring in a defensive anchor. The season is already the wash we expected it to be. It doesn’t have to be an embarrassment on a par with last season. Charlotte already has the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It doesn’t deserve to have the NBA Hall of Shame become permanently located down on Trade Street.