ATLANTA — With just their second win in the past 14 attempts in Atlanta, the Charlotte Bobcats kept their collective head above water in the "Avoid The Heat Sweepstakes" by hitting a game-winning shot as time expired to knock off the Hawks, 95-93.
When the former Memphis star who signed with the Bobcats out of the D-League back in December overheard his team’s best player, Al Jefferson, discussing his end-of-game exploits in the locker room, he pleaded for hyperbole. The double-double machine of a forward using the word "great" simply was not good enough Douglas-Roberts. After all, he said he hadn’t hit a game-winner since his college days in 2007, so how many will he hit from here on out in his NBA career?
"Best finish I have ever seen," said Jefferson, who finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds to pace Charlotte’s winning effort. "I think when NBA TV comes on, that should be the first clip. Even over LeBron. … Make sure you tell LeBron I was kidding. I don’t want him getting angry."
When asked if his winning floater should upstage The King, The Highlight King no less, Douglas-Roberts, who is averaging 6.8 points in about 20 minutes per game this season, first wanted to know what the reigning NBA MVP had to counter with. When informed that the Heat rested James and Chris Bosh in a loss to Washington (sealing the Heat as the No. 2 seed and keeping the Wizards in the hunt for the No. 6 seed), he contemplated his place in the pecking order.
"He still might get on there."
Even with the Bobcats’ primary perimeter scorers, Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson, sitting on the bench, the ball was not intended to land in Douglas-Roberts’ hands. But after a drawn-out series of curls, the 6-foot-7 guard eventually accepted the pass and found enough elbow room to get off his shot — with plenty of credit being given for Jefferson’s screen to free him up.
"He was the last option on that play," said Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, who received 43 total points from his bench. "There were a couple other options the Hawks took away."
Added Douglas-Roberts: "I kinda felt that it was gonna get back out (to me) because Gary was hot that quarter. And I just made the play. … I’ve been shooting that shot my whole life. I’ve been shooting floaters my whole life. That’s kinda been my shot forever."
All the same, the reserve had to hit it. He only scored five points in the game, but he hit one when it counted most, keeping his team alive in the race for the 6-seed, in the quest to avoid the defending champs and man that Jefferson jokingly apologized to and the one that Douglas-Roberts assumed he could not surpass on the highlight reels.
Douglas-Roberts was not the only member of the Bobcats roster unaware of LeBron James’ comings and goings following their 42nd win of the season. Jefferson was also oblivious to Miami coach Eric Spoelstra’s decision to rest a couple of his stars — he knew the final result of the Washington game, he just didn’t know the means to the end.
"Be careful what you wish for," Jefferson said, referring to accepting a certain seed by conceding a win.
Though it could not be any other way, it’s intriguing to watch how infiltrated the Miami Heat storyline is at this time of the year — playoff time — in the locker room of a potential opponent. As playoff scenarios line up for Bobcats and the rest of the NBA playoff teams, the overwhelming sentiment in the underwhelming Eastern Conference is to avoid the Heat at all costs. The Wizards and Bobcats will play for the right to play the 3-seed in the opening round in their respective season finales: Charlotte hosts Chicago, while Washington travels to Boston.
But for all the good-natured posturing surround the Heat matchup, Clifford addressed the situation with disinterest. He has other things to consider.
"The big thing is to be playing well," the first-year head coach said. "Our game is to defend, rebound, low turnover."
They haven’t been doing that well enough of late, and there’s just one more regular season game to get things back on the right track.
The Hawks, on the other hand, played rather well on Monday night, all things considered, but they were locked into the eighth seed no matter what happened. They could win the next two or lose the next two, and it wouldn’t have mattered. The only variable left undecided entering their game against the Bobcats was their future opponent — and that was decided for them.
It’s going to be Pacers-Hawks in the 1-8 matchup. The underdog might like its odds there, too.
To the surprise of very few in attendance (outside, perhaps, some unsuspecting ticket-holders), the Hawks took advantage of their set-in-stone playoff seed to give some of their starters some rest on Monday night. They’ll need them healthy as possible come the weekend. Their first-round matchups pits two teams who split the regular season series.
Budenholzer sat Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll and Kyle Korver against the Bobcats, three guys that, outside of point guard Jeff Teague, played the most minutes this season for Atlanta (combined 99.8 points per game). A good portion of that emphasis falls on Korver, who has not played up to his own offensive standards in April. As Atlanta’s primary court-spacer — an asset in Budenholzer’s team-focused, complex system — Korver’s scoring numbers and 3-point shooting rates have fallen to season-low rates, so perhaps his legs needed a rest (monthly splits):
Millsap and Carroll were playing well over the past month, but at this point, there’s very little reason in Budenholzer playing the team’s starters serious minutes in the season finale other than to keep them accustomed to the speed of game action, and even then the risk of injury may be too high.
It’s not that the Hawks will be considered favorites by any means against an Indiana team that looked excellent for a large portion of the season and once again in a win over Kevin Durant and the Thunder on Saturday, but they will enter this series with confidence. Atlanta is closing the season winning at least six of its final nine games, including victories over Indiana, Miami and Brooklyn. So … why not? On it’s face, it seems better than a meeting with Miami.
"Anybody can beat anybody," Hawks guard Lou Williams said. "We’ve played well against those guys this season. We look forward to the challenge."