Yeah, MR. Jordan, we're all starting to have this look when watching the Bobcats play.
It’s the fourth game in five nights. The legs turn to jelly early. The arms are already stiff and heavy. The shots you are certain are money are clanking off the front of the rim. This is the gift given to the Charlotte Bobcats by the NBA. The bow on top of that gift is that we’re playing a team for the second time in four days. They know us inside and out. Or do they? We didn’t exactly reveal the inner pages of Coach Dunlap’s Super-Secret NBA Play Book. In fact, does anyone know if Coach Dunlap even has a Super-Secret… never mind. Some questions are best unasked. The Pacers are just as tired as the Cats, coming off a loss against New Jersey. My partner Andrew thinks the Fatigued Felines are a good bet for the win tonight. I think this should be a sloppy, staggering, mess of a game. Those are my favorites because whichever team manages to find a little more desire and will to win usually comes out on top. These are the games that tell us just how much tougher our team has become. So which squad wanted it more?
Before we get into things, let’s look at MY keys to the game:
Just because the league gives you 24 seconds it doesn’t mean you have to use 23.5 of them before taking a shot.
When you make the first jump shot of the night, you needn’t run back up the court shaking your head and saying, “I cannot believe it went in.” It doesn’t inspire confidence in anyone except the man covering you Biz. Trust me.
Don’t fall behind so quickly that Coach has to call timeout before 3 minutes roll off the clock. What? He called timeout with 2:30 expended? Uhm… maybe it was a reflex move out of habit.
This isn’t volleyball. When the ball comes your way you can go ahead and grab it. Swatting it away out of bounds, while optional, isn’t a high percentage move. If you grab the ball you get credit for a rebound. This is a statistical good thing.
Midway through the first quarter Indiana had rolled out to an 11-point lead largely based on Charlotte’s failure to do anything about the four points I made above. In reference to item four on the list, each time the ball came off the rim the Charlotte forwards smacked it like it owed them money. On the plus side, although things were shaky on the offensive end, there was a noticeable improvement in the speed of the Cats rotation at the defensive end. The Pacers were still able to score, but it involved a lot more effort – the kind of effort that wears an offense out in later quarters. Indiana continued to sting the Cats with rapid-fire shots from the arc area so their points piled up quickly and once again Charlotte was flirting with allowing another 30 point quarter. Of late the Bobcats have been holding teams to or just below triple digits, which is a sign that they are moving in the correct direction, but along with the increase in defensive intensity has come a drop in production from the offense. Have I mentioned how much I miss seeing Byron Mullens play? I’ve seen DJ Augustin so much this past week that I feel like he’s back with us, but that’s a whole different thing, isn’t it? It means something when our former star first-string guard is a member of a middling contender’s “B” squad, but I don’t want to think about it. The quarter ended with the Cats needing a 9-2 run to pull within 7 points, but to be honest I don’t want to think about that either. The score after the first frame, 27-20 Pacers.
After learning about the upcoming games in the ACC where we are assured “we’ll let them know we are alive” and being relieved to find out that Michael Jordan’s heartbeat is still perfect, for him, the second quarter began. Diop began the festivities by missing an 18-foot jumper and somehow the Pacers increased their lead back to double-digits. When Desagna is leading the perimeter shooting charge something is truly going wrong. Judging from the lovely shade of green that flooded Coach Dunlap’s face at the bench I don’t think the play went quite the way he had planned. Del Curry didn’t even have a fancy set of initials to slap on the play. Let’s call it the HFO (Hell Freezes Over) play.
Ramon Sessions came in off the bench and the Pacers promptly began clubbing him like a baby seal. Nonetheless, the attention he drew, combined with his time at the stripe, allowed the Bobcats to start to climb back into it once again. Kemba Walker took a beautiful shot from the arc and came down hard on his left ankle. The upside was that he walked to the med-room under his own power. The downside of course, was that he had to go to the med-room. He's a player we can ill afford to lose, even for a partial game.
The injury to Kemba seemed to let all the air out of the Cats. Indiana was playing sloppily, but with less than 2 minutes to go before the half the Cats were shooting 5 for 18, so precise execution was unnecessary. The lead ranged from the low to the mid-teens for much of the quarter until MKG converted an and-one to cut it to ten. The Bobcats continued however, to spank at every loose ball like a mom that caught her kid touching himself in the “no-no zone.” Am I kidding? At the half the Pacers led the rebounding 32-13. That’s right. Charlotte grabbed 13 boards for the half. Only dumb luck and Indiana’s fatigue kept the score moderately close. At the half Indiana still held that ten-point lead – 50-40.
Do you remember your first car? The one where the only thing that seemed to work most of the time was the check engine light? Coach Dunlap must feel like he’s driving it now. He gets the defensive rotation under control and everyone starts playing like they’re wearing mittens. In a week or so he’ll have that taken care of but the only time the fans will see a Charlotte pick is when Coach is digging in his nose. I keep telling myself that this season should be the last of the dark days for the franchise, but just watching the play is painful at times. I don’t expect perfection, but these guys are capable of so much better play than they’ve been showing lately that it seems as if the only thing on the menu is “Frustration DuJour” with malaise on the side. If we play like this against OKC or the Spurs we’ll lose by 40 or worse.
The third started with a bright light for Charlotte. Not only did Kemba return with the team, but he started the scoring for the Cats with a high-arcing shot from the elbow. Darkness quickly descended however because the Pacers responded by shooting the lights out and stretching their lead to 16 by running in 8 points in less than 2 minutes.
For the umpteenth time this season the Bobcats came out of a momentum timeout by Coach Dunlap and failed to score on their first possession. The only execution Charlotte fans were likely to see would have to involve a blindfold and a cigarette. As a result, at the midpoint of the third all but one of the Indiana starters had scored in double digits. The only Bobcat to cross that threshold point was Ramon Sessions off the bench. The Pacers also continued to rebound 39-17. They had more boards than a lumberyard. They were on the glass like Windex. They had grabbed more balls than… They had run up 17 assists to just 9 for the Felines, but I don’t have a cute bon mot for that so I’ll just mention it in uh… passing. (Whew! That was close!)
(I know it isn’t very funny, but if you can be funny while keeping it clean and watching a train-wreck in process we’ll happily give you a recapping spot. Seriously. Just ask Matt!)
I don’t want to say that Coach Dunlap had grown desperate, but Assistant Coach Silas could be seen behind the bench with a feather duster and pressure hose unit cleaning the cobwebs off of Tyrus Thomas. Sure enough, with just over 3 minutes to go in the quarter, Tyrus came in with the chance to seize control of the game and be the hero the Cats fans have been praying for. It wouldn’t be easy. The Pacers lead swelled to 24 and Ben Gordon passed the ball right into the hands of Coach Dunlap for turnover number ten. Tyrus wound up the quarter mistaking “carpe diem” (seize the day) for “carpe passus (seize the pace-setter) and his sole production was a quick pair of fouls. After three Charlotte was slipping into darkness and giving the Indiana starters some welcome rest. Indiana led, 83-57.
The fourth began with Thomas back on the bench, ostensibly to protect him from foul trouble and save him for crunch time. (No, I didn’t mean crunch time this game… just crunch time… you know, someday.)
Nothing notable occurred in the final quarter unless you’re either a Pacers fan or an utter masochist Bobcats fan. The lead grew to 30 and the only thing that kept the Pacers rebound figure from surpassing the Bobcats SCORING total was the fact that Indiana just didn’t miss that many shots. The Cats guards were suffering. Walker’s injury was the kind that swells up ugly once the sneaks come off and you know he’s going to need every second of the team’s two days off before they have to play again. Although Henderson is listed as healthy, Gerald spent his time on the court moving as if his knees were full of broken glass and his time on the bench wrapped up in massive matching ice packs. Jeff Taylor’s been mum, but I have enough chronic back trouble of my own to recognize spasms when I see them. With our bigs producing 12th man numbers much of the time though often all an opposing defense needs to do is focus on hammering Charlotte’s guards to contain our offense. As a result our backcourt often looks like my great-grandparents did at the end of the Trail of Tears. We are at the point now where a trade or free agent pickup isn’t needed to salvage a season in freefall, it’s become required to protect the health of our young players. They’ve given their all and then some. It’s time to get them some help. Despite what the Charlotte record might indicate, this was a comparatively rare blowout loss. I believe it’s testimony as to just how hard our fledgling squad fights each night that it’s unusual for a Cats game to be decided this early. The final score of what hopefully is the darkest night before the arrival of the dawn; Indiana 103, Charlotte 76.
After a pair of days to lick the assorted wounds, we’ll schlep on down to Florida for a one-night road trip and face the struggling Magic. Normally I’d be optimistic for our chances at a road win but Orlando has managed to be one of those teams that always manages to have our number regardless of their season record. As soon as that game ends the guys will jump on the redeye back to Charlotte to play the Kings to conclude yet another back-to-back. Hopefully Kemba’s ankle isn’t half as badly hurt as it looked on the 300 or so replays we watched during the fourth quarter.
Normally we post stats to illustrate the high points for the Cats efforts, but there truly were no stats worthy of mention. They were literally all negatives. The Cats were out-rebounded 60-31. Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker finally joined Ramon Sessions with double-digit scoring with 15 and 13 respectively. MKG, Warrick and Biyombo combined for a total of 13 points and 12 rebounds. I’ve always been one of the most optimistic fans of the Charlotte Bobcats. From day one, I bought seats, sported gear, and sang their praises. This is the second straight season I’ve tried to stay excited, but not only has team excellence proven to be elusive, of late even mediocrity has been as rare as snake toes. Mr. Jordan? The time has come to give us something – anything to get excited about down on Trade Street.