CHICAGO — Who was that assertive, self-confident dude who snatched D.J. Augustin’s body Saturday night?
In four seasons as a Charlotte Bobcats point guard, Augustin seemed trapped in self-doubt. When he left, after the Bobcats pulled a qualifying offer, Augustin had a forgettable season with the Indiana Pacers, then was waived off the Toronto Raptors.
So who would have predicted this? Augustin poured in 20 points and 12 assists off the bench to preserve the Chicago Bulls’ 103-97 victory over the Bobcats at United Center.
The Bobcats (15-23) made this interesting, making up a 15-point deficit to tie the game at 70-70. Guards Gerald Henderson (a season-high 30 points) and Kemba Walker (29) were essential to Charlotte shooting 47 percent from the field against one of the NBA’s premier defenses.
Then D.J. happened. A baseline drive to the rim led to an uncontested layup. He made 6-of-13 from the field and 7-of-7 from the foul line. His body language was dramatically different fromwhat Bobcats fans were accustomed to when he played in Charlotte.
“I’ve been here a month now. My teammates pick me up every day,” Augustin said in a quick post-game interview.
Maybe the Bobcats got his juices flowing. Augustin had ripped the organization that drafted him in 2008 just before his first trip back to Charlotte with the Pacers in the fall of 2012. Augustin implied the Bobcats were churning along as losers and he wanted out.
The Bobcats bit back, noting that they’d offered him a far more lucrative contract than anything Augustin found on the open market. That night Augustin missed a big jump shot, as if to remind everyone why the Bobcats revoked that qualifying offer and signed Ramon Sessions.
Augustin never made an impact with the Pacers. He went through the indignity of being waived in Toronto because the Raptors needed to open a roster spot to facilitate the trade that sent Rudy Gay to Sacramento.
Then the Bulls called, desperate for help after Derrick Rose was ruled out for the season with another knee injury. Augustin has been solid – this was his fourth game scoring in double figures – and this season could reignite a flickering career.
Meanwhile, the Bobcats lost their seventh game in eight outings. But coach Steve Clifford sounded encouraged afterward, after his team fought back from 15 down.
Clifford experimented in the second half, relying almost exclusively on his starting five, because the bench has been shaky of late.
“We don’t have a game until Tuesday,” Clifford noted. “I can’t do that” otherwise.
As well as Walker and Henderson scored, Clifford was more encouraged by how they defended.
“Their defensive effort was very good,” Clifford said. “Hopefully we can build on this.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell