When the Charlotte Bobcats posted great defensive numbers in the preseason, coach Steve Clifford didn’t trust it. He said wait until the regular season to judge, when the other team’s best player logs 30-some minutes.
Friday was the regular season. Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving logged 30 minutes. And the Bobcats held the Cavs to 38 percent shooting in a 90-84 victory at Time Warner Cable Arena.
This defense can be trusted.
“It’s been five-man basketball, with all of us helping each other out,” said point guard Kemba Walker, whose 3-pointer with 58 seconds left put the Bobcats ahead for good. “I’m accepting that challenge from coach. He wants me to be a great defender.”
The Bobcats are 1-1 because they held the Cavaliers scoreless the rest of the way. Jarrett Jack air-balled a 3-pointer and C.J. Miles and Irving (16 points and seven assists) also missed 3s.
Clifford is sold that his team can be sustainably solid defensively.
“We have quickness on the perimeter with our small guys,” Clifford said. “And you need big guys who can make multiple efforts (per possession). We have them in (Josh) McRoberts and (Cody) Zeller. And we have wing defenders you don’t have to help.”
The Bobcats need to be great defensively because they’re a long way from that status offensively, particularly without low-post scorer Al Jefferson. He missed this game when his sprained right ankle grew sore and stiff Friday.
Jefferson’s availability for Saturday’s game in New Orleans is unresolved.
“Yesterday he was fine, and today he had a lot of soreness and stuff,” Clifford said.
How big of a loss was Jefferson’s absence?
“For us to win, he has to play,” Clifford said. “It’s like if Kyrie Irving didn’t play” for the Cavs.
Irving, a former Duke star, was solid but less than spectacular. Walker primarily guarded him, but he received a lot of help.
“You can’t guard those guys with one guy,” Clifford said. “Our team defense was excellent.”
Credit Bismack Biyombo (11 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks) and seldom-used Jeff Adrien. At 6-7, Adrien certainly isn’t the ideal height to guard NBA centers. But he came through in a pinch, grabbing three rebounds and blocking two shots in 11 minutes.
“He hasn’t been playing at all, but he’s a hard worker in practice,” Clifford said of Adrien. “Tonight he got his chance and did the job.”
The bonus Friday was small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist offering some offense. He struggled all preseason, but Friday he drove aggressively in the first half and ended the game with 15 points and six rebounds.
“I was very aggressive offensively,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “We miss Al Jefferson, but there’s more to come.”
That has to start at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“We have to establish that we’re going to win here,” Clifford said. “Winning at home is the first step to being a winning team.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell