The micro problem for the Charlotte Bobcats Monday was a complete inability to guard the Atlanta Hawks in the third quarter. The macro problem was figuring how to re-integrate Al Jefferson into this team’s offense.
The third-quarter defense had no easy fix and the Jefferson mix in the post won’t be a quick fix. That’s where the Bobcats stand after a 103-94 home loss that left them 3-4 on the season.
The third quarter was gruesome. The Bobcats gave up 72 percent shooting (13-of-18) and made just 33 percent at their end (6-of-18). By the end of the third, Atlanta (4-3) had turned an eight-point deficit into an 80-70 lead.
“We came out for the third with absolutely nothing,” said Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, back from a heart procedure that forced him to miss Friday’s loss to the New York Knicks.
Clifford said Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, a former Wake Forest star, took the Bobcats apart with nine third-quarter assists. Hawks center Al Horford was the beneficiary of many of those passes, scoring 13 of his 24 points in the third quarter.
“We couldn’t keep him out of the paint,” said Clifford of Teague, who finished with 14 points and 12 assists. “We couldn’t keep him in control, and most of their shots came directly from him.
“It’s disappointing. We need to do a lot better than that.”
That sums up Monday’s loss but the ongoing issue is getting Jefferson back into the fold, conditioned and impactful. Jefferson was the Bobcats’ big off-season acquisition, signing a three-year, $41 million contract. He’s the kind of low-post scoring threat the Bobcats have never before had in a decade of existence.
Jefferson sprained his right ankle in the second preseason exhibition and didn’t play again until the season-opener in Houston. He re-injured the ankle in that game – this time more of a bone bruise than a sprain – and sat out the next five games.
Monday he played and started to mixed results. He missed his three first-half shots before finishing 5-of-11 from the field for 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
There were glimpses of the possibilities: Jefferson whipped a pass out of a double-team to shooting guard Gerald Henderson for a dunk in the second half. But there were also some obvious readjustments that could take weeks to complete.
“I just need more reps,” Jefferson said. “It’s kind of unfair what the team is going through with me – in, out, and back (in) again.”
The adjustment period speaks to both Jefferson’s injuries and the rarity these days of true back-to-the-basket scorers. Power forward Josh McRoberts (a game-high 19 points and 5-of-8 from 3-point range) spoke to that post-game.
“There are guys who have never played with a true post scorer in their careers – not high school, college or the pros,” McRoberts said. “He’s one of the best post scorers in the world, so we’ve got to adjust.”