In My Opinion

Fowler: Elephant off backs of Bobcats with win over Pacers

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comNovember 3, 2012 

— A one-point win. A sellout crowd. A 30-point game by last year’s No. 1 draft pick.

The Charlotte Bobcats got all that on opening night Friday. If they could only stop the NBA season right now, life would be just about perfect.

The Bobcats ended last year’s 23-game losing streak with a flourish, upsetting the Indiana Pacers, 90-89, before a rowdy sellout crowd of 19,124.

New coach Mike Dunlap referred to it later as “killing the elephant” – getting the losing streak off his team’s back before it grabbed hold of the season. Now there will be no more talk of the Bobcats surpassing the all-time record for consecutive losses.

For one night, anyway, the Bobcats looked like the contender to go deep into the playoffs that the Pacers actually are. They outplayed Indiana, particularly Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (30 points in 33 minutes). The Bobcats ended the evening with exactly as many wins as the Carolina Panthers have – and the Panthers’ season is two months old.

The final shot was taken by D.J. Augustin, the former Bobcats starter who is now a backup for Indiana. Augustin had a wide-open 3-pointer from the right wing just before the buzzer but left it just short in a tense arena. It was fitting in a way – Augustin rarely made that shot when he was with the Bobcats, either.

Walker had his career high by early in the third quarter – his previous high had been 23 points during his rookie season. He was fearless and precocious Friday. Dunlap had said in the preseason he wanted Walker to get back to being the Walker he was at Connecticut, where he won the 2011 national championship. In this game, Walker got there.

And it had been a long time since Time Warner Cable Arena felt like it did Friday night. Concession stand lines were often 20-deep. Fans threaded carefully around each other in crowded concourses. The upper deck wasn’t full, but it was closer than it has been for any game not involving the Miami Heat or L.A. Lakers for awhile.

I watched half of the game where I usually do, from press row. But I watched the other half from the stands – mostly in the upper deck, where you could get a ticket for $10.

It was easier in the stands to feel the ache – and, later, the joy.

Bobcats fans have been battered. Their team finished last season as a national joke, losing 23 games in a row to finish with the worst winning percentage (.106) in NBA history.

The fans included former wrestler Ric Flair, Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross and former Bobcats coach Paul Silas. Silas was the coach for that 7-59 season but no one seems to hold it against him. He was greeted warmly everywhere he went. A referee came up to hug him, for gosh sakes.

The Bobcats roared to a 12-3 lead in the first few minutes and forced the Pacers to call a quick timeout. But then Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough got hot and the Pacers went ahead by four at halftime.

Charlotte got back in front thanks to Walker during the Bobcats’ 35-point third quarter and led most of the rest of the way, clinching the win when Augustin’s shot clanked off the rim.

To make things even better for Bobcats fans in attendance: In the third quarter, a fan playing a Bobcats’ version of “Deal or No Deal” won a contest that allowed everyone in the building to stop by and get a free ticket to Wednesday night’s home game against Phoenix.

That brought a huge roar, of course, and was a clever idea to try and fill seats that were going to be left empty otherwise.

A few other quick impressions:

• Ben Gordon is going to help right away. The sharpshooter knocked down several tough shots and on a team that is going to struggle, that is a key skill to have.

• Brendan Haywood’s statistics weren’t much (four points, nine rebounds), but he immediately improved the Bobcats’ awful post defense from a year ago. Haywood is never glamorous, but he makes the Bobcats tougher inside.

• Tyrus Thomas (1 for 9) continues to underachieve. How can the whole be so much less than the sum of the parts?

• Rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist helped on defense right away. His clean block of 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert was one of the game’s highlights, and he had seven rebounds. He only shot 1 for 7, though, and Dunlap didn’t use him in crunch time – although the coach later said MKG had a “marvelous” game.

Scott Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter:@Scott_Fowler

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