CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When a team has lost 18 games in a row like the Charlotte Bobcats, the manner of losing varies. But the frustration doesn’t as each additional loss seemingly acts as another brick added to a building wall of pressure.
As Kemba Walker sat in the locker room still in uniform 30 minutes after the game with a towel draped over his head, it was evident that this one hurt just a little more than the rest.
No loss is easy, but it’s hard to conceive a more frustrating or excruciating way for a loss to unfold than Saturday night’s 98-95 setback against the New Orleans Hornets.
The first-half script couldn’t have been any more beautiful for the Bobcats. In the battle of the top two picks from June’s draft, Bobcats rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist delivered 18 points and seven rebounds as the Bobcats built a 57-40 halftime lead behind 63 percent shooting.
But that lead — one that had ballooned as high as 21 in the first half — was erased as the Hornets tied it up at 73 after three.
Coach Mike Dunlap’s answer was pretty succinct in explaining a quarter that saw the Hornets put up 33 points: “Ball pressure and just fundamental principles of our defense.”
But give the Bobcats credit, they didn’t fold in the fourth. Despite falling behind by nine with a little over a minute to play, they cut into the lead and forced an Eric Gordon turnover with 11 seconds left, clearing the way for a final possession to tie it.
The play out of the timeout was beautifully executed, with Ben Gordon firing off a fallaway three that just missed. But there was Gerald Henderson, snagging the rebound and firing it out to a wide open Ramon Sessions. That shot wouldn’t go down either, and the streak continued.
“They did a really good job of taking us out of our offense when they went to their zone,” Hakim Warrick said. “They did a really good job of knocking down some big shots when they needed to.”
It was a tale of two halves for Kidd-Gilchrist too, but one that showed the mettle of the Bobcats’ prized rookie.
Diving for a loose ball late in the second quarter, Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a scratched cornea and didn’t play the final minute of the half. He came back out in the second with protective goggles on but was never quite the same and only mustered four more points in 10 minutes.
“There were two performances. One was his 18 points in the first half. In the second half because of the kick to the head he was different. That happens. It is part of the game,” Dunlap said. “The thing that was incredible and typical MKG is he just played through it. He’s a competitor. He gave us what he had in the second half. A lot of that was just sheer willpower. It was pretty remarkable.”
Coach’s admiration or not, that wasn’t enough for him or the Bobcats.
“I mean I was just not being aggressive in the second like the first,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “That’s what happened to all of us. We weren’t attacking enough and didn’t make enough shots.”
Six months prior Kidd-Gilchrist was seemingly the consolation prize in a draft in which everyone was enthralled with his Kentucky teammate Anthony Davis.
Davis was the one anointed with the Tim Duncan comparisons — a seven footer with guard-like agility in a league with a limited supply of elite big men. He was the obvious choice. Kidd-Gilchrist? Not so much. He was projected as the elite glue guy with Gerald Wallace comparisons but a questionable jump shot.
Instead, he’s been nearly as impressive as Davis, winning November Rookie of the Month honors and joining only LeBron James as players who have scored 25 points and 12 rebounds in at least two games before the age of 20.
Kidd-Gilchrist admitted after the game that it was a matchup that was special to him, and one he seemed to take personally in the first half, with the two surprisingly matched up against each other a great deal as the Bobcats went three guards with Kidd-Gilchrist at the four.
One play late in the first half perfectly epitomized the two’s long-term prospects.
Kidd-Gilchrist drove hard left, the type of first-step burst from a 6-foot-8 wing that no seven-footer should be able to slide his feet and stay in front of. But there Davis was, still in excellent position. Yet, with the same grit that he’s shown throughout his rookie season, Kidd-Gilchrist used his strength to get up a runner that managed to drop.
“I know where he’s coming from. He knows how I am going to attack, and I know how he’s going to attack,” said Kidd-Gilchrist of his teammate on Kentucky’s 2012 national championship winning team. “That wasn’t unusual for me.”