Bobcats down Grizzlies, extend win streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kemba Walker was asked if he remembered the last time the Bobcats won four straight?
He chuckled. "That's gotta be a joke?" he asked rhetorically.
The answer was 2011.
"It feels good of course. We put a lot of effort, lot of time, lot of preparation to play these games, and for us to go out there and execute and play the way we played tonight to get this W, feels good," he said.
It was a hard fought 92-89 win Saturday night over a Grizzlies team that is 16-5 over their last 21 games.
1. It took three years but the Bobcats are now again owners of a four-game winning streak.
The Bobcats led by as much as 13 with six minutes to play, but Mike Conley clawed the Grizzlies back in it. They were down three with the ball and 11 seconds left on the clock after Walker had hit consecutive free throws on back-to-back possessions, and Conley got a great look at the three ball to tie it. It rimmed out, but Courtney Lee snagged the rebounded and kicked it out to Mike Miller, who got it over to Conley for another shot to tie it but this one went down and out and the Bobcats escaped with their first four-game winning streak in three seasons.
This was the type of game the Bobcats have struggled with in the past, playing their fourth game in five nights after playing last night. Heading into this week, they had lost eight straight games on the back end of a back-to-back but they won both games this week.
"More than anything, it is four in five nights and you guys know we've struggled with back-to-backs," Clifford said. "To beat a team of that caliber with four in five nights, that might be as excited in the locker room as the guys have been. It was a really good win."
2. The Grizzlies bottled up Al Jefferson but couldn't handle Kemba Walker.
Shooting 37 percent from the field and only getting six points from Al Jefferson are usually the ingredients for a Bobcats' loss.
Somehow, they overcame both Saturday night, though, with a strong effort from Kemba Walker and their bench. Heading into Saturday night, Jefferson was averaging 26.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game in his last 19 games, but Memphis repeatedly dug down from the wings on Jefferson and Marc Gasol -- one of the league's premier post defenders -- made his life incredibly difficult on the way to a 2-13 shooting night.
"They really committed to not letting Al score," Clifford said. "They didn't come out and really double but they helped so much off other guys, so it was good for us because we had to find other ways to play offense tonight."
Much of that offense came in the form of Walker, who had 31 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Clifford decided to pull Jefferson away from the basket more in the second half to open up the lane more for Walker off the bounce and keep the offense from getting stagnant. Clifford said it was much like how his team had to play when Jefferson was out, spacing teams more to create driving lanes and drive-and-kick opportunities. It worked as the Bobcats went 8-for-20 from deep on the night.
"Al's really unselfish. He pretty much gave up his post game in the second half and just screened and moved the ball," Clifford said. "When we did that, that's when we started creating some better shots. To score 48 on them in the second half is good because they're a good defensive team."
They're so good on defense that Clifford's not worried about teams copying their defensive strategy because few, if any, teams have the wing length and a post defender like Gasol to be able to play that way.
"They're really talented defensively because they have the things that's the most important thing in this league to have: size," Clifford said. "So what they're able to do they can commit more help to him and still get back. Other teams just wouldn't have the size or personnel. You have to have somebody like Gasol that can make it hard enough that Al can't just beat him and get an angle on his first dribble. So I don't think there's many teams that can play like that."
Conley's one of the premier point guard defenders in the league, too, making Walker's night all the more impressive. And Bismack Biyombo really picked up the slack when Al Jefferson had to ride the pine in the first half with three fouls, spelling him for 10 minutes and posting six points, five rebounds and two blocks in that span.
Clifford stopped short of calling it Biyombo's best game since he's been here, pointing instead to the 21-rebound night he had in a preseason game, but it was clearly Biyombo's best regular season game to date.
"He's been playing pretty consistently," Clifford said of Biyombo. "He's playing very consistently. He did play very well though."
3. The feel-good vibes could be short lived with the brutal slate ahead.
The locker room mood was about as good as you'll ever see it Saturday, but the gauntlet approaching is far from joyful. Just squeaking out a 2-2 record over the next four-game stretch would be considered a major, major victory with the Spurs, Thunder, Heat and Pacers -- also known as the four best records in the league -- all in secession, three of which come on the road.
"We knew we needed to get some wins going into this road trip. Best four records in the league, so it's going to be tough to go into their places and get wins," Anthony Tolliver said. "We have a lot of confidence and hopefully we can go in there and get two or three of them."
So far against those four teams, the Bobcats are 0-7 this year.
"It's a big challenge," Walker said. "Hopefully we can continue this stretch and keep this thing rolling. I think we're feeling good right now, and hopefully we can go on this road trip and get some Ws."
4. Clifford hanging in elite company with his technical foul Saturday night.
It didn't have near the theatrics of Jim Boeheim's infamous technical foul 2.5 hours down the road from Charlotte Saturday night, but Steve Clifford got a technical foul with 2:52 in the second half.
He's now behind only Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich in the NBA in technical fouls among coaches.
"Well, I'm in pretty good company then," he joked.