Jazz 88, Bobcats 85

Bobcats fall to Jazz in final seconds 88-85

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comDecember 21, 2013 

That’s what you call a buzz-kill.

So much about this evening was special: The crowd, the halftime presentation of the new Hornets logos. The comeback ...

Well, almost comeback. Center Al Jefferson had two put-backs under the rim in the last 12 seconds. Both fell off. And the Bobcats lost at home to the Utah Jazz 88-85 on Saturday night, breaking a three-game winning streak.

Jefferson again tweaked his ankle late in this game. He wasn’t using that as an excuse later, but it seemed apparent his lift wasn’t quite right when he attempted those taps after Kemba Walker missed a drive.

“Basketball Gods,” Jefferson said. “It didn’t happen. (One) should have gone down.”

So a good week fell short of great. The Bobcats are 13-15, having survived four games in five nights. They had two spectacular comebacks on the road in Toronto and Detroit, only to let this one slip from their grasp.

The Jazz (8-22) won this one at the 3-point line. They made 10 of 21, outscoring the Bobcats from the arc 30-6.

“You get outscored by 24 in 3-point shooting, it’s going to be hard to win,” coach Steve Clifford said.

Yet they had a real chance, making up a nine-point deficit to tie the game with three minutes left on a Jefferson dunk. Jefferson finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks against the team he played for the past two seasons.

It was clear Jefferson had an edge against former teammates Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. He turned it up in the fourth quarter, with seven points, six rebounds and two of those blocks.

Jefferson has been fighting ankle problems since the preseason. He appeared to get tangled up with Jazz guard Trey Burke just before the possession where he missed those two put-backs. It was clear as he walked to the Bobcats bench for a timeout something wasn’t right.

“He felt like he could go back in (but) he was limping a little bit,” Clifford said.

Jefferson told Clifford just Friday, before the Pistons game, his ankle felt the best it has since the original injury in the preseason.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Jefferson said of his self-described “little setback.”

“It’s a little sore, but I’ll get treatment” Sunday.

Clifford gave his players the day off, despite them playing again Monday at home against the Milwaukee Bucks. They looked pretty wiped out after the busy week, but now they play one game in the next five days.

“Overall it was a good week,” Jefferson said. “We could have gone 4-0, but we didn’t.”

This week had people thinking differently about this team, and not just because of the upcoming Hornets identity. They’re in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Clifford, without literally using the “P” word, made it clear there are stakes at hand: “We’re playing for something right now.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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