Charlotte Hornets

February 5, 2014

Bobcats’ gritty defense stifles Warriors

This is what coach Steve Clifford strived for from the first day of training camp: A defense that is precise, persistent and gritty.

Here’s what you really need to know about the Charlotte Bobcats’ 91-75 victory over the Golden State Warriors:

The Warriors hadn’t shot this badly – 31.2 percent from the field – since 2004.

This is what coach Steve Clifford strived for from the first day of training camp: A defense that is precise, persistent and gritty. They held Golden State’s spectacular backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to a combined 30 points. No other Warriors even reached double figures scoring.

So the Bobcats (22-28) return to Charlotte from their best West Coast trip ever, going 3-1. They also beat the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers. The only loss was to the surprising Phoenix Suns, and that was the night center Al Jefferson hit the wall, with 10 points.

After a two-day break from games, Jefferson was back to being dominant. He finished this game with 30 points and 13 rebounds, abusing Andrew Bogut, one of the NBA’s better defensive centers.

While Jefferson took care of the offensive end, the defense was an ensemble piece. Shooting guard Gerald Henderson (17 points, eight rebounds and six assists) said this game epitomized the importance of trusting teammates, a theme he’s espoused all season.

“You’ve got to trust that your (teammate) will be there” in defensive rotations, Henderson described. “On bad teams, you’re reluctant to leave your guy.”

That reluctance is what the Warriors (29-20) typically thrive on. They have the NBA’s second-best 3-point mark at 38.1 percent. Any confusion on defense and they burn you.

“They’ve got guys who can shoot it right in your face. They need no space. So you’ve got to get into them,” Henderson said. “You’ve got to put pressure on them making 3s. You can’t lay back and let them take shots.”

Curry and Thompson were a combined 3-of-11 from 3-point range, so obviously the Bobcats did what Henderson meant. That was gratifying all around in the post-game locker room.

“We played really well against their pick-and-roll,” Jefferson said. “For those guys, 3-point shots are like layups. So you have to get a body on them” when they come off the picks.

The Bobcats got back point guard Kemba Walker, who had missed the previous seven games with a sprained left ankle. Walker (seven points, seven assists and six rebounds) is working himself back into game shape. At one point he left the game with a cramp in his calf.

“I was kind of winded at times,” Walker said. “You’re not able to replicate (game conditioning) on a treadmill.”

Now they have the luxury of time: They play one game in the next six days (at home Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs) and three games in the next 13 days, in part due to the All-Star break.

“We focused on the right things – close-outs on their shooters and pick-and-roll defense,” said Clifford. “Kemba and Ramon (Sessions) did a great job of getting up on their shooters.

“And Gerald was excellent. His defense was good, he had eight rebounds and five or six assists. He played a heck of a game.”

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