There’s an axiom among NBA-types that the only thing that travels well is defense.
Defense is just about the only thing the Charlotte Bobcats had Friday. That and Josh McRoberts’ wide-open 3 from the corner that clinched an 86-80 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Bobcats are 5-4 because they guard relentlessly. Their shooting was bad again (40 percent from the field) and for once they didn’t get 30 or more trips to the foul line (20 Friday).
But they found a way to close down the Cavs (40.5 percent), outscoring Cleveland in a second-half span of 13 minutes by 23 points. Point guard Kemba Walker, who shot terribly since injuring his left shoulder five games ago, did just about everything else with seven assists, five steals and five rebounds.
“I’m not shooting the ball so well (16-of-78 over five), but my teammates keep encouraging me to attack,” said Walker (12 points). “Basketball is not just about making shots. It’s grabbing long rebounds, it’s guarding Kyrie” Irving.
Irving, the top pick of the 2011 draft, played in a protective mask after breaking his nose in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He finished with 18 points and 10 assists, but was 5-of-16 from the field and committed six turnovers.
Walker made the play of the night with just over a minute left and the Bobcats leading by six. He drove hard to the rim, drew the attention of Cavs center Anderson Varejao, and whipped a pass to the corner, where McRoberts nailed a 3-pointer.
“I drew his defender and he was out there kind of wide-open,” Walker said.
McRoberts said it meant a lot that Walker trusted him with that pass, after McRoberts missed eight of his previous 11 shots. Trust is a big factor in this team’s improved play.
“We shot like, what, 3 percent from the field tonight, and it would be easy to let that affect other parts of our game,” said shooting guard Gerald Henderson. “I don’t know if we were ever as good on defense last year as we are now. It’s all about trusting and helping each other.”
The Bobcats played Friday without starting center Al Jefferson, who had a flare-up of his sore right ankle. That eliminated the Bobcats’ best scoring option. But Jefferson’s replacement, Bismack Biyombo, had 12 rebounds and three blocks, helping to hold the Cavs starting frontcourt to 34 points.
The Bobcats haven’t ruled out Jefferson for Saturday’s home game against the Miami Heat, but coach Steve Clifford acknowledged Jefferson “wasn’t even close” to being effective when he tested the ankle Friday.
Small forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (16 points and eight rebounds) and Jeff Taylor (11 points and five rebounds) made up for much of what Jefferson might have offered.
“I’ll take (an ugly) win like this,” Kidd-Gilchrist said with a broad grin. “I’ll take any win we can get.”
BOBCATS 86, CAVALIERS 80
Percentages: FG .400, FT .700. Three-Point Goals: 8-20, .400 (McRoberts 3-8, Tolliver 2-2, Sessions 1-1, Taylor 1-2, Walker 1-5, Henderson 0-1, Kidd-Gilchrist 0-1). Team Rebounds: 10. Team Turnovers: 16 (16 PTS). Blocked Shots: 8 (Biyombo 3, Walker 2, Henderson, Kidd-Gilchrist, Tolliver). Turnovers: 16 (Sessions 4, Walker 4, Biyombo 2, Kidd-Gilchrist 2, McRoberts 2, Henderson, Tolliver). Steals: 8 (Walker 5, Sessions 3). Technical Fouls: Defensive three second, 3:56 fourth.
Percentages: FG .405, FT .706. Three-Point Goals: 4-15, .267 (Clark 3-3, Irving 1-5, Jack 0-1, Karasev 0-2, Miles 0-4). Team Rebounds: 6. Team Turnovers: 16 (17 PTS). Blocked Shots: 6 (T.Zeller 2, Clark, Gee, Jack, Varejao). Turnovers: 15 (Irving 6, Jack 2, Clark, Gee, Karasev, Sims, Thompson, Varejao, T.Zeller). Steals: 10 (Irving 2, Jack 2, Miles 2, Thompson 2, Bennett, Gee).
Att.—18,679 (20,562). T—2:05.
Officials—Dan Crawford, Sean Corbin, Steve Anderson.