Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson says it’s natural for a team to relax with a 30-point lead.
Relax is one thing. Collapse would have been quite another. Over this game’s final 17 minutes the Bobcats lost all but a point of a 30-point lead Monday. It took six free throws during the final 15 seconds by Gerald Henderson and new starter Ramon Sessions to hold off the Toronto Raptors 100-95.
The Bobcats have owned the Raptors of late, winning 10 of the past 13. But they nearly signed away that deed by throwing away the ball and giving up constant offensive rebounds.
The Bobcats committed 11 second-half turnovers, leading to 17 Raptors points. Also Toronto converted 17 offensive rebounds into 28 second-chance points.
Those are the little things the 18-25 Bobcats usually aren’t equipped to survive.
“When you get up a 30-point lead, no matter what you tell yourselves, you’re going to relax a little,” said Jefferson, who finished with 22 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists. “But we stopped getting back on defense.”
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford attributed that partially to how Charlotte turnovers led to Toronto fast breaks. The Raptors (20-20) finished with 19 fast-break points to nine for the Bobcats.
This was the first game the Bobcats played without point guard Kemba Walker, who is out about two weeks with a sprained left ankle. Sessions got his first start as a Bobcat and performed well with 23 points. Sessions and Henderson (16 points) combined for 21 free-throw attempts.
Walker’s absence appears to be allowing opponents to double-team Jefferson more aggressively. Jefferson got off to a great start Monday, totaling 10 points and 10 rebounds during the first quarter.
It got tougher later, particularly when the Raptors used burly Chuck Hayes to guard Jefferson in the post. Jefferson got just six shots after halftime.
“Me and Chuck are great friends, but I hate (playing) him as a defender,” Jefferson said. “He’s smart and he moves his feet. I hated when he was traded to the East.”
Jefferson’s seven assists were a season-high. He said improving his passing will be essential to getting through the two weeks without Walker as an alternative scoring threat.
“Kemba, he will be missed,” Jefferson said. “I’ve got to do a better job of catching the ball and reading the defenses.”
And someone has to make shots when Jefferson passes out of the double-team. The Bobcats had a strong game from the 3-point line, making nine of 16 attempts. Jannero Pargo, the third option at point guard, had played almost no meaningful minutes this season, but he came up big with 11 points and 3-for-4 from the arc.
“Other guys have to score,” Clifford said of teams doubling Jefferson. “It’s the issue with that (center) position – it’s dependent. It’s not like getting LeBron (James) the ball at the top of the key.”