Ever-candid coach Steve Clifford apparently becomes that much more so when he’s displeased with his team.
Rather than praise the Charlotte Bobcats for keeping it close in an 89-85 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night, Clifford turned up the heat on a recurring theme: That lately his team’s precision, attention and effort is slipping.
“I didn’t like our defense. Our attention to detail was not good at all,” Clifford said. “Our effort on the glass was not really what it needs to be.”
Clifford volunteered all that, without needing a question in the post-game press conference. And he didn’t leave it at that.
“It was a lack of concentration, a lack of diligence, and lack of attention to detail,” he continued. “You have to take away a team’s strengths. They had six backdoor layups. We’ve gone weeks without that happening.
“It’s not acceptable and they know that.”
Clifford started talking this way at the beginning of the week, after a one-point overtime victory against the worst-in-the-East Milwaukee Bucks. He mentioned “slippage” in the defense that has made the Bobcats surprisingly competitive in what is now a 14-16 start.
Clifford believes he has a smart team full of competitors. He doesn’t doubt that’s still the case. But they haven’t played like that lately and it clearly worries the first-year head coach.
They had a real chance to beat the best-in-the-West Thunder (24-5), who played without star point guard Russell Westbrook. He’ll be out through mid-February after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Friday.
Thunder forward Kevin Durant was everything a superstar is supposed to be, finishing with 34 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. But Anthony Tolliver did a solid job of making Durant work for his points.
The Bobcats had a chance for a go-ahead basket with 10 seconds left and Charlotte trailing by two. Point guard Kemba Walker (18 points, seven assists) penetrated into the lane off a pick-and-roll, suddenly turning to find power forward Josh McRoberts wide open beyond the 3-point line.
McRoberts is a decent 3-point threat – 34 percent for the season – and had made 3-of-6 from long range Friday. So Walker fed him and McRoberts launched, the shot rolling off the rim with three seconds left.
Desperate to get the ball back, the Bobcats fouled Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha, who made both free throws to decide the game.
Clifford had no problem with how that play ran or who took the shot.
“(McRoberts) got us back into the game and Kemba made a good play,” Clifford said.
It was clear in the locker room post-game that whatever Clifford said to the media he amplified to the players.
“We made a lot of mistakes on things we talked about yesterday and today,” said center Al Jefferson. “Against a great team you can’t make mistakes like that.”