Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford broadcast his one non-negotiable in the preseason: everyone has to get back in transition defense.
That didn’t happen Saturday. It was emblematic of what went so wrong in a 111-89 road loss against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Bobcats played five games in seven nights against some of the NBA’s best competition. They looked tired and listless most of Saturday night, as Memphis’s 17 fast-break points illustrated.
“Our fast-break defense was terrible and that’s something we usually do well,” said center Al Jefferson (17 points and seven rebounds). “They’re not even a fast-break team.”
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So true. The Grizzlies (36-26) are big and deliberate. They work you over in the half-court with big men Zach Randolph (16 points) and Marc Gasol (14) muscling their way to the rim.
So it was a bit alarming that the Bobcats didn’t get back on the break. Point guard Kemba Walker offered a “my bad” in describing what happened.
“Fast-break defense is my job,” said Walker (11 points and five assists, but 3 of 13 from the field). “I’ve got to get back and get the defense set. If I don’t do that, other guys won’t, either.”
The Bobcats (29-34) are much improved, but as Clifford frequently notes, their margin for error is still rather slim. They beat the Grizzlies in Charlotte on Feb. 22 when Memphis went to extremes defensively to contain Jefferson in the post. That left Walker free in the pick-and-roll for 31 points and the Bobcats won by three.
Jefferson could see the Grizzlies felt they owed the Bobcats one. Though they were coming off a Friday victory in Chicago, just as the Bobcats beat the Cleveland Cavaliers at Time Warner Cable Arena, the energy level of the two teams was markedly different.
“It was a long week and we didn’t play well tonight,” Clifford said. “Our offensive energy wasn’t there. They’re terrific defensively with great size.
“We lacked the energy we needed and the physicality.”
That was reflected in the differential in second-chance points (16-11 in favor of Memphis). Walker said the Grizzlies were so persistent on the defensive boards (40 to Charlotte’s 27) that it became obvious that the first shot would be their only one each possession.
This was not a night when they could survive that; Charlotte was 5 of 21 from 3-point range and shot 40 percent overall. With the Grizzlies scoring 60 points in the paint (an ugly flashback to Charlotte’s 7-59 season two years ago), the math just couldn’t work in their favor.
The Bobcats get Sunday off before a home game Monday against the Denver Nuggets. They sure appeared in need of a recharge.
“We’re a little fatigued, but that’s no excuse,” Jefferson concluded. “They play the same schedule we do.”