CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Bobcats (3-3) had a chance to beat the Knicks twice in a week Friday night. Their Tuesday night win in New York caused the Knicks to have a team meeting afterwards, and the Knicks came in hungry, handling the Bobcats easily in a 101-91 win. Here are four observations from the Bobcats’ first home loss:
1. A difficult loss under difficult circumstances
The energy and focus wasn’t there for the Bobcats Friday night Kemba Walker said, but who could blame them? They found out Friday morning that their coach Steve Clifford had gone to the hospital the night before with chest pains and wouldn’t be there for Friday night’s game. It was revealed later that afternoon that Clifford would have to have two stents put in and the timetable for his return is unknown.
“Coach Cliff has been great since the day he got here. A lot of people care about him here. Just to hear something went down with him is tough but that’s life. We still had to come out here and play a basketball game,” Henderson said. “I’m sure he’s not sitting in his bed, hoping we’re feeling bad for him. He wanted us to come out here and win this game, but we just couldn’t do it tonight. But hopefully he can be back as soon as he can and be healthy and we’ll get right back on track.”
In the meantime, Patrick Ewing took over the bench against his old franchise and admitted there were nerves being in the lead man’s seat.
“It was a lot different [being head coach]. When I’m the assistant I’m just sitting there giving advice, talking to the head man. Tonight I was the head man and they were giving me advice. It’s a total team effort here,” Ewing said. “We’re all in this together though. But I was nervous at first, but once the game started I was able to calm down and do my thing.”
Doing his thing didn’t involve getting his first win, though.
“[Coach Ewing] did great. It was all us. We were the ones on the court. We were the ones out there playing,” Walker said. “Patrick was great, we just had to pick up the intensity and we tried late. We did it in spurts, We just didn’t do it consistently.”
2. Small ball killed the Bobcats
The Knicks had a players-only meeting after their loss to the Bobcats Tuesday night with star Carmelo Anthony pleading for greater effort.
No surprise then that the Knicks came out with a ton of energy from the start. Tyson Chandler’s fractured fibula forced the Knicks to go even smaller than normal, playing Andrea Bargnani at center and Carmelo Anthony at the four with three guards — Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton.
It worked. Bargnani’s perimeter skills gave Bismack Biyombo fits all night, scoring 25 points on 11-of-25 shooting. Every time the Knicks needed a bucket to stave off a Bobcats’ run, Bargnani or Anthony — 28 points on 12 -of-22 from the field — delivered.
“It’s tough. It’s tough on everybody but for Bis to go out there and have to guard him, its tough because he’s used to guarding inside. Somebody with that kind of skill set its tough,” guard Gerald Henderson said. “I think he did a decent job on him but when he’s hitting three and step backs and pull ups, its tough.”
It was threes that proved the difference all night. The Bobcats were just 4-of-16 from deep, while the Knicks shot the lights out with a 12-of-26 night.
“That’s what they do. They shoot the ball really well and they were hot. They were making their shots,” Walker said. “They made it tough on us. We were out there scrambling. We missed a lot of rotations also. They made the extra pass and made shots.”
They weren’t able to make the Knicks pay for going small either. Bargnani’s a notoriously poor post defender for his size, but with Al Jefferson out, the Bobcats didn’t have anyone to consistently post up and get a bucket against him. They tried to go to Gerald Henderson on the block multiple times, posting up Felton, but he held his ground and forced tough shots.
Henderson did put up 18 points but was 7-of-18 from the field. Walker led the team with 25 points and five assists but was just 8-of-22 from the field. The bright spot offensively was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who put up 14 points, eight rebounds on 6-of-11 shooting and hit an 18 and 20 foot jump shot.
3. The Bobcats are getting little from their posts without Al Jefferson
The wait for Jefferson’s home debut continues.
Jefferson played the Bobcats’ season opener in Houston but hasn’t seen the floor since as he continues to deal with a nagging bone bruise in his right ankle. There’s still no timetable for his return, but the Bobcats are hoping it’ll be soon.
“Hopefully soon. He’s going to be here doing some stuff tomorrow and on Sunday hopefully he’ll go through a full practice,” interim coach Patrick Ewing said. “We’ll see what happens come Monday.”
They need him sooner rather than later. It’s incredibly hard to score consistently in the league when you have no ability to work the ball inside in a halfcourt set. That task becomes even more difficult for a team like the Bobcats that are struggling mightily from the perimeter. Heading into Friday night’s game, the Bobcats were 27th in three-point percentage (26.6 percent) and 29th in both three-point attempts (15.8) and makes (4.2).
Their offense in halfcourt sets frequently evolves into Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions or Gerald Henderson having to create a shot off the dribble late in the clock. That’s tough for any offense but especially tough for one struggling to find a guy to consistently make defenses pay for helping down on the drive.
4. The Bobcats continue to get to the line at a staggering pace
Usually if you out shoot your opponent from the foul line by 21, you can chalk up a victory. Not the case for the Bobcats Friday night, but the foundation of this offense again was just how often they’re going to the free throw line. Granted they were shooting a league worst 65.4 percent heading into Friday night’s game, but they’re getting there an awful lot — second most in the league at 32.4 attempts per game. They did that again Friday night, but they made them this time, knocking down their first 18 of the game before finishing 25 of 30 on the night.
Ramon Sessions continues to be stellar off the bench. He’s averaging eight free throw attempts per game and 12.6 points per game in only 22 minutes. That’s the bench punch they need and he’s been a big part of why they’re getting to the line so frequently.