Yeah...this is a nasty dunk by Taylor. Enjoy!It wasn’t supposed to happen this quickly. Every once in a while a team comes out of nowhere and forces the league to take notice. The Grizzlies have been perennial doormats of the Western Conference for example, and suddenly they’re the hottest team in the league. The Charlotte Bobcats, another team performing way above expectations, have already learned just how tough Memphis will be this season. Yet our young Bobcats have already raised expectations. After being roughed up by the Hawks last night, the Cats roll into Washington with most people assuming it will be an easy road win. Fans of the Cats could have warned the optimists that nothing ever comes easy for the Bobcats.
Charlotte squandered an early 13 point lead as Nene Hilario, still battling plantar fasciitis and limited to 20 minutes of action, showed the crowd just how great an impact he will have when he is able to return as a full-time presence. Whenever he stepped onto the court the Wizards would begin to wreak havoc on the Bobcats. He was a disruptive force on defense and a constant scoring threat on offense. It’s been a long rough patch for Washington NBA fans and there is still a very cold spot in many a DC heart for any team with Michael Jordan’s name on the executive masthead. I’ll admit it. For older fans like myself, the city hasn’t felt like an NBA town since they went PC and stopped being the Washington Bullets. It seems like the name change has brought nothing but hard luck to the Wizards. You’re reading a recap from a Native American that is firmly against demanding that the Braves, Indians, etc. find something new to call themselves. You don’t even want to ask me about changing the name of my Bobcats!
Wait… how did this soapbox get under me? Sorry about that. ANYWAY, at the end of the first quarter the Bobcats still managed to hold on to the lead, 25-24.
The second quarter was more of the same. The Bobcats would start to build momentum and then Nene would come in and the Wizards would battle back. Former Bobcat Emeka Okafor wasted little time showing his old team that he still bears a grudge, rattling in 9 first-half points of his own. I don’t know if it was the Wizards arena after 4 games in the friendly confines of Time Warner Cable Arena, but the game seemed very boring for some reason. The biggest surprise for Bobcats fans wasn’t that our lead scorer was a player off the bench – we’re used to that. The shock was that it wasn’t Ramon Sessions leading the way; it was Ben Gordon. Averaging 12 points per game, Ben exploded for 16 in the first half alone. Halftime showed the Bobcats trailing by a score of 51-50 and I hadn’t been able to get into the rhythm of the game beyond the impact Nene seemed to have whenever he entered the game.
In the second half, the Bobcats decided that it was time to start behaving like the up-and-coming contenders that they’ve been called. The fighting felines went on a 14-2 tear and opened up an 11 point spread. The darker side of the Bobcats also began to manifest as well as Jeffery Taylor, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Brendan Haywood all found their way into foul trouble and the turnovers began to mount. Part of the longstanding Bobcats persona has been that they tend to play to the level of their competitors. This is great news indeed when playing teams like the Lakers. When facing some of the dregs of the league though, it’s not so good. Sadly, with so many areas of Bobcats basketball improved in such a short time, even the presence of a new coach wasn’t able to change this tendency. Both the Wizards and the Cats began playing some of the sloppiest hoops seen outside of rural playgrounds. Passes wound up in the stands, shots didn’t come within a foot of iron, let alone finding the net, and nothing seemed to go right. Washington slowly chewed their way into Charlotte’s lead and, shortly after Nene returned from the bench, the Wizards climbed back to within a point. With a minute remaining in the third, with the crowd back into the game in a big way, the Wizards regained the lead. When the quarter finally drew to a close (after yet another stretch that will never make any NBA highlight reels, the two teams were deadlocked at 72-72.
The fourth began with Stephanie Ready declaring of Nene, “aren’t his 20 minutes up YET?” She had good reason, as he scored the first 4 wizards points of the quarter before taking a seat. This time around however, there were only four minutes left in the game when one of the Bobcats chose to step up and steal the hope from the eyes of the desperate Wizards. The hero this time was Byron Mullens. After what felt like the 200th offensive rebound of the evening for Washington, Byron blocked a put-back from Emeka Okafor, ran from the rim to the frontcourt, and drained a three. Moments later, he reined in a difficult rebound, dished up the sideline to Taylor and Jeff set off a three-point bomb of his own to put the Cats up by 9 in a hurry. Unbelievably, as the clock ticked down under a minute the Wizards had managed to climb back to within a point and that ray of hope reappeared.
While scrambling for a rebound with 178 seconds left, the foul counter finally caught up with MKG and he was forced to watch from the bench as Martell Webster headed to the stripe and tied it up once again. Webster choked on his second shot and despite ANOTHER offensive rebound; the Wizards came up empty as time expired. Regulation ended with the score knotted up at 92.
The overtime began with MKG already out of the action, Ben Gordon on the verge with 5 fouls, and everyone but the towel boys in some sort of foul trouble for the Bobcats. Nene started the extra period off with a dunk that almost tore Mullens’ arm out from the roots. Kemba Walker then drove the paint but was unable to find the hole amidst the upraised limbs of the tall trees. After an empty possession by the Wizards, Mullie tested his arm by draining the Bobcats tenth trey of the night. He then blocked another attempted dunk by Nene. Walker once again drove into the lane to no avail and when Nene returned to make his third dunk attempt he paused just long enough to send an (uncalled) elbow into Kemba Walker’s head. It took a timeout for Kemba to clear the dancing birdies out from around his head. At the midpoint of overtime Washington clung to a two-point lead. It began to look like the home/away double-double was finally catching up to our hometown heroes as every shot we took seemed to rim off the front of the iron. The exception was Ben Gordon who floated a rainbow-trey of his own to give the Cats a one-point bulge with half a minute remaining and the Bul… uh Wizards in possession. Kemba, fighting and falling out of bounds after a rebound, showed he had regained enough of his faculties to bounce the ball off of the head of a Wizards player and send it out of bounds with just over 3-seconds remaining. With a foul to give, Washington grabbed Mullens the second he touched the ball on the inbounds pass, forcing a do-over. When the second inbounds pass sailed out of bounds, the refs had to delay and watch the replay to reach a final decision that the Bobcats should retain the ball for a third inbounds – this time directly underneath the basket. With 1.6 seconds remaining, Mullens was again fouled. He made one of two to stretch things to a 99-97 Bobcats lead. Since the first 2.9 seconds took roughly 10 full minutes to play, there was no telling how long the final moment would last in NBA minutes. Washington burned a final timeout to gain possession at midcourt.
Washington managed a clean pass to inbound the ball and as the clock expired on a missed trey by Chris Singleton, the refs called a shooting foul on Jeffery Taylor, put a half-second on the clock, and sent him to the line with a chance to win. Singleton made his first. After rattling the rim to increase the drama, the second shot missed. Shot number 3 (of course) sailed in, hitting nothing but net. It was on to the second overtime with both of our rookies on the sidelines, fouled out of further action.
Washington slipped out to an early lead as the second overtime began and despite some energy at the offensive end by the Cats, when the clock again found the way below two minutes the Wizards still held on to a single-point lead. Under the Charlotte bucket, Nene Hilario, 27 minutes into his 20-minute time limit, dished the ball to Singleton who got fouled and hit one of two. Reggie Williams, off the bench with the opportunity to be the hero of the game in his hands, quickly took advantage of a hustle transition and tied things up with a three of his own. With just under a minute remaining, the Bobcats retook the lead 104-103. Roughly 40 or so offensive boards later; the clock was down to 14 seconds. A second later, Singleton fouled Ramon Sessions in the backcourt and a Wizards player finally fouled out. Sessions nailed the first and missed the second. Kemba Walker snared the rebound, getting fouled in the process. Kemba scored both free throws and gave Charlotte a two-possession lead with 12 seconds to go. Slowly the dejected Wizards fans began to file for the exits. Washington grabbed another dozen rebounds but kept missing treys. The only thing that would drag the ending out further then happened. The clock stopped working, the Wizards managed to score their 4th third point attempt and pull within a point. The referees gathered at the scorer’s table and reviewed the play to eventually determine that there should be 1.6 seconds in the game. Charlotte called a 20-second time out to get organized and moved the ball to the frontcourt.
Kemba took the inbounds pass and was instantly fouled. He missed his first freebie and hit the second. With .8 seconds to go, the Wizards desperation shot skidded off the glass and, after dangling hope in front of the Wizards for over 3 hours, the Cats escaped with the win, 108-106. In so doing, not only did the Bobcats match their entire win total from last season, the managed to avoid repeating history and let a team in the throes of an historic losing streak end the pain at Charlotte’s expense. (Remember our loss to the Nets????) As Kyle and Stan so often say on South Park, the Bobcats learned something today. There is no mercy in the NBA. None was shown to us last season. All we got was plate after plate piled high with humiliation. It took far more effort and energy than it should have, but the Cats finally learned to dish out the heartache just as harshly as they were once forced to take it.
The choice for the TSP Gamebreaker is an easy one this time. Despite falling short of a double-double while playing almost 46 minutes, Byron Mullens was a constant factor at both ends of the court and finished up with a very impressive stat-line. He led all scorers with 27 points. He also picked up 8 rebounds and a pair of blocks on the defensive end. Oh, and then there’s that 5 three-pointers as the cherry on top. He continues to emerge as one of the wisest decisions the Bobcats front office has ever made and always finds new ways to make his presence known on the court. Honorable mention also goes to Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions who came off the bench to score 19 and 21 respectively. MKG, Taylor, and Kemba all had slightly off nights, but each managed to finish with double-digit scoring and contributions in all aspects of the game. Oddly enough, there were times late in the game when Kemba reminded me of Raymond Felton’s sophomore season. Like Ray-Ray, Kemba kept trying to take control and lead the team to victory by tearing into the paint. Also like Ray-Ray, he got smothered once he got close to the bigger players on the court. Here’s hoping that the coaching staff notices the tendency and teaches him some alternative choices quickly.
Next up for our Cats is a MUCH needed day off before taking on the tough-as-nails Thunder. Hopefully we’ll be rested and that much closer to seeing the return of Gerald Henderson and Bismack Biyombo to active duty. Now that win number seven is safely under our belts we can look forward to examining some of the other problems the team is facing. As problems go, they are a far better batch than we’ve seen in recent seasons. Please, send some feedback on these issues. Should we go trade/free agent shopping and make a serious attempt at becoming title contenders this season or patiently continue to build for the future? Unlike recent seasons where there were several teams that had already established themselves as serious title contenders (LA, Miami, etc) it seems like this season, teams like our Cats and the Grizzlies may only be a scant player or two away from becoming potentially deadly. It doesn’t take much of an imaginative stretch to see our Bobcats picking up some depth on the market and fighting our way at the very least into the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s not that much of a stretch at all. Is it time for our once-distant dreams of an NBA final to become a reality down on Trade Street?