Considering the Charlotte Bobcats had lost 16 straight home games, it would take something extraordinary to break this streak.
Actually several things extraordinary: A lineup so small 6-foot-5 Gerald Henderson was the power forward. An 18-point comeback. Henderson’s 25-foot jump shot to beat the shot-clock. And Kemba Walker (25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists) blocking J.J. Barea’s drive to the rim.
Add all that up, and you have a mistake-filled, yet utterly entertaining 102-101 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Time Warner Cable Arena.
It had been since Nov. 21 that the Bobcats (11-32) had won a home game. Even then, against the Toronto Raptors, it took a non-call so egregious that the NBA issued a public apology to the Raptors the next day.
This time Walker guarded Barea tight, but without hearing a whistle. Barea, the Timberwolves’ shifty little point guard, expressed conviction post-game that he should have gotten free throws.
Walker said he was “very concerned” about fouling, and relieved nothing was called.
None of that would have mattered had Henderson (15 points) not made his only three-pointer of the game, barely avoiding a shot-clock violation. Rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had to save a ball as it was going out of bounds, lofting a lob pass to Walker deep into the court. By the time Walker found Henderson, five seconds remained against the shot clock.
Henderson saw that, got Minnesota’s Andre Kirilenko to run past him with a ball fake, then swished the 25-footer that became the winning basket.
“I just threw it up and it went in,” Henderson said, glowing with contentment.
That the game ever got that close was about the small-ball lineup Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap cobbled together after the Timberwolves led 29-11 in the game’s first 8 1/2 minutes. Dunlap played four guards – Walker, Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and Henderson – together for long stretches, with either Bismack Biyombo (10 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks) or little-used Tyrus Thomas as center.
That made Henderson the “power forward” by default. This was partly about the scoring those four guards represent and partially about Kidd-Gilchrist’s foul trouble – he had four in his first 12 minutes.
“I had to get five guys on the floor who were playing well, and I didn’t care if (Henderson) was 5-foot-nothing,” Dunlap said, adding of Henderson, “It’s his presence defensively; he’s just nasty, and I like that.”
Henderson was guarding Kirilenko most of the time, which helped because Kirilenko is more of a jump-shooter than a post-up guy.
“If you’re not physical, you’re going to get eaten up,” Henderson concluded.