ORLANDO, Fla. — This was sort of the co-captain buddy system: What Gerald Henderson started, Kemba Walker finished.
The Charlotte Bobcats wouldn’t have beaten the Orlando Magic on Friday 106-100 had shooting guard Henderson not posted up all first half for 17 points. But this came with a cost: on the first play of the game Henderson’s back locked up, and by the third quarter he was on the bench strapped to a heat pad.
Enter Walker, the second-year point guard, who filled in the rest by finishing with 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists. In particular, Walker hit three free throws in the last minute after the Magic had closed a 13-point deficit to four on two particularly ill-timed Charlotte fouls.
First, rookie Jeff Taylor fouled Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, allowing Nelson to score two free throws without using up possession time. Then, veteran center Brendan Haywood was called for an offensive foul – an illegal screen set on Nelson – to change possession with 58 seconds left.
Magic guard Arron Afflalo drove the lane on the ensuing possession. Bobcats guard Ramon Sessions blocked Afflalo’s shot, and Afflalo was incensed a foul wasn’t called. So much so that Afflalo was called for a technical foul.
Walker hit the free throw, then grabbed an offensive rebound off a miss by teammate Hakim Warrick. Two more free throws, off a foul by Orlando’s E’Twaun Moore, and Walker had iced the Bobcats’ 10th victory (against 29 losses).
The Bobcats want Walker to feel comfortable as a leader. Friday felt like a big step.
“I embrace that,’’ Walker said post-game, his sprained left ankle wrapped in ice. “The older guys here have given me that opportunity.’’
He shares that mantle with Henderson, who made 8-of-10 first-half shots before being limited to three second-half minutes.
The Bobcats don’t have high-quality post-up players among their big men, so the best options are shooting guard Henderson and rookie small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap saw a mismatch entering this game, so he told Henderson in advance he’d be posting up a lot versus the Magic.
It worked to a charm, setting up both Henderson’s back-to-the-basket game and his fadeaway jump shots.
“It takes away a lot of (the opponent’s defensive) help,’’ Henderson said of the post-up plays. “You leave me by myself and I feel I can elevate and shoot.’’
That was certainly true until his back gave out. Then it became Walker’s show.
And now the Bobcats return home to play the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night. They haven’t won in Time Warner Cable Arena since Nov. 21.