The mood, following a near-miss victory against the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat on Sunday, was not what you might expect.
Rather than enjoy that they built a 14-point lead or that Heat center Chris Bosh had to hit three absurd 3-pointers late to beat them, the Bobcats were angry at themselves that they didn’t finish the job and end a 13-game losing streak against a Southeastern Division rival.
“It’s tough because we deserved to win that game,” said shooting guard Gerald Henderson after the 99-98 loss. “We just didn’t finish.”
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford saw defensive lapses from about the 9-minute mark (when the Bobcats led 79-65) until Bosh reentered the game (6 minutes, 47 seconds left, the Heat trailing by seven) that he thought set up the Heat’s win.
The Bobcats aren’t particularly used to managing leads in this type of situation, after going 28-120 the previous two seasons. But Clifford expects better.
“They started going to the basket and that’s when we couldn’t stop them,” Clifford said, adding the Bobcats got into a mode where they “were playing a lead instead of playing” situations.
It was a learning experience, for sure. Some things that emerged from what would have been their biggest victory in a long time:
Through the paint: Clifford made an interesting comment pre-game that to beat an elite team, the Bobcats had to be more focused on getting the ball into the lane offensively, even if that’s not where the shot in a given possession ultimately came.
“We have got to play inside-out,” Clifford said. “We have too many possessions where the ball doesn’t touch the paint.”
Translation: If the ball finds center Al Jefferson’s hands (16 points, 13 rebounds) or point guard Kemba Walker (27 points) is driving at least as much as he takes jump shots, this is a far better offense. The Bobcats matched the Heat in points in the paint at 38 and took three more free throws than the Heat. Those factors kept the Bobcats competitive.
Go for it: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra seemed taken aback in the post-game news conference at reporters’ inferences that Miami was flat Sunday. Spoelstra said this was about how much the Bobcats have improved.
“Charlotte put us in that position,” Spoelstra said. “They played aggressively, they played well, they moved the ball, they made shots.”
Ball-movement: One of the small, but important, things in the Bobcats’ improvement has been ball-movement. Power forward Josh McRoberts is key to that, but so is what Clifford calls a collective absence of selfishness.
You have to be that way to give yourself a chance against the Heat’s defense.
“They are not going to let just one guy beat them,” Henderson said. “You are not going to play a whole bunch of one-on-one, you have to be able to move the ball. Guys have to be in their spots and we have to be able to make passes.
“You either shoot it, drive it or pass it quickly, because they have athletic guys and good defenders, and they help so well.”