"Sessions drives around a near Collison for score"For a number of reasons, I had to miss the season opener so this was my first chance to see our new “Tougher, Faster, Stronger” Bobcats in action. I knew two things before I even settled into my chair. First, it was going to take more than a flashy slogan for the Cats to get their first-ever victory against the Dallas Mavericks and second, this was a Bobcats unit far improved from the squad that limped off the court at the end of last season.
As the game began the Bobcats appeared a bit slow and sluggish. While this could be somewhat explained by their being forced to open the season with a home-away back-to-back against two tough teams, these guys are pros. Plus, one of the focal points for Coach Dunlap from the first day of camp has been conditioning his young squad to run, run, and when they get done with that, run. The Mavericks took advantage of the seeming lethargy by leaping out to an early lead. Before long however, some aggressive play by Ramon Sessions and our (potential) rookie sensation Michael Kidd-Gilchrist put the brakes on the almost unstoppable fast break talent of the Mavs starters. Soon, the Cats started firing on all cylinders and their improvement was easy to see. It was also easy to see that, at least this early in the season, the fighting felines aren’t quite ready to best the elite teams in the league… yet.
The quarter ended with the Cats down a dozen – 19-31.
Early in the second the Mavericks got a bit sloppy and the Cats pounced. Consecutive turnovers resulted in a trey by Tyrus Thomas that was quickly followed up by a posterizing dunk by Kidd-Gilchrist. Thomas, who apparently spent the off-season healing from injuries both physical and emotional, has come out this season with something to prove. I’m certain that a player of Tyrus’ stature heard the echoes of the booing fans long after last season was just a bad memory for some other ballers. Suddenly Dallas had no answer for the surging Bobcats and by the midpoint of the frame the felines had fought their way into a small lead 38-37. The teams traded the leads back and forth for a few minutes but as the seconds wound down to the half, the Mavs laid down a sudden burst of offense culminating in a buzzer-beating, one-handed trey by Darren Collison and when the locker rooms filled back up the scoreboard displayed a Dallas lead, 61-53.
Ramon Sessions was leading the way for the felines, salting away 16 points for the half. It was a safe bet that over in the Dallas locker room much of the talk centered on the obvious: stop Sessions and the Cats will collapse quicker than the Greek economy. Last season a similar strategy, often aimed at the departed DJ Augustin, would be the only adjustment any opponent would need. But these are our new look “Tougher, Faster, Stronger” Bobcats. Would packing Sessions in ice be enough to derail the suddenly-competitive Cats?
At the beginning of the third, the answer seemed to be a resounding “YES,” as Dallas quickly stretched their lead out to 15. It was at that point that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said, “that’s enough!” With some inspired defense that left the Mavs running up the court empty-handed, he started leading the charge and the Bobcats trimmed the lead back down to single digits, 74-83.
Sadly, the Mavericks spent the quarter throwing in bombs from long distance with O.J. Mayo and Vince Carter simply killing the Cats from the arc. As expected, each time Sessions touched the ball he found himself double-teamed. Handling the situation the way only a seasoned veteran can, Ramon would either find a way to dribble out of trouble or get the ball to the open man. Nevertheless, the barrage from afar rewarded the Mavs with their biggest lead as the quarter closed. On the back side of a home-away back-to-back to open the season, the exhausted Cats were staring at an 81-97 deficit.
The fourth quarter opened with Dallas doing what Dallas has done since the Bobcats came into the NBA. They took what were supposed to be Charlotte’s strengths and shredded them into humiliating weaknesses. Coach Dunlap’s endless focus on defense? As they say in Brooklyn, the NBA’s newest neighborhood, “fahgeddaboudit.” At times it seemed like the Mavs had simply forgotten how to miss. In what seemed like a quick minute Dallas had pummeled their way to a monstrous 25-point lead. What happened to the stamina and conditioning drills that were designed to allow the Bobcats to run opponents into the ground? To their credit, the Cats refused to lie down, but there were times when even their youngest players appeared to be running with baby rhinos tied to their legs. When the Mavs starters hit the bench to provide some mercy and give the scrubs some minutes, the Bobcats started chipping away with some offensive rebounding and steals. Byron Mullen began showing some long-range muscle of his own, but it was far too little and way too late. Charlotte’s early season winning streak ends at one. When the bleeding ended the final tally was 99-126.
Regular readers of my TSP recaps know that I seldom give a Gamebreaker award when the Cats get blown out. Still, the score could have been much worse, as anyone watching the game can testify. Had it not been for the leadership and veteran savvy shown by Ramon Sessions, the Bobcats could well have wound up with one of those 60-point offensive ciphers that were so common last season. Had it not been for the effort of Kidd-Gilchrist at both ends of the court (3 offensive boards, 5 steals, 13 points) the Mavs could have easily run their score up close to 150 points. That kind of work should be rewarded so let me welcome Ramon Sessions to Charlotte by giving him my first Trade Street Post Gamebreaker Award of the season, along with an honorable mention Sweating Smileyface sticker to MKG.
You wouldn’t likely think of it (and the national media sure as hell won’t bother to mention it) but there were a lot of good things on display for fans of the Bobcats. Our lottery pick, often spoken of as a defense-only player, is starting to show surprising confidence already at the offensive end. Ramon Sessions looks like he’s come to us just as he’s entered that magic period in an athlete’s life when skills and experience join together to create a deadly combination. There is a noticeable lack of chemistry with the team (open players not getting seen, teammates fighting for the same ball, etc) but that will improve with each minute on the court. Being as objective as a Cats Phreak can be, this is not the team that will carry us deep into playoff country. I do believe however, that if they can remain healthy, they will be exciting to watch, competitive on most nights, and give fans good reasons to come out to the Cable Box and cheer. Jordan and Cho have built a solid foundation already and if they continue on the successful path they seem to be on it won’t be long before the NBA is forced to try to figure out how to design a championship ring on a Cats’ claw.
Next up (after a welcome 3 day break) the Bobcats will face the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. The Suns have been in decline of late after many years as serious title contenders so it will be exciting to see how well the Cats match up as they ascend the talent ladder. Have they already grown stronger than the Suns? The Cats will be well rested and Gerald Henderson will have had some time to heal his freshly sprained ankle, so the game should be a good measure of how far our team has come and how far they may yet need to go down on Trade Street.