Here’s how Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson set the tone for the second half against the Washington Wizards on Monday:
“I said, ‘Watch this comeback,’ ” Jefferson recalled. “Everybody (at the scorer’s table) looked at me like I was crazy.”
Instead, he was prophetic. After getting down 16 in one of their worst defensive halves of the season, the Bobcats outscored the Wizards 56-34 in the second half for a 100-94 victory.
The win sliced the Wizards’ lead for sixth place in the Eastern Conference to two games. The Wizards could have clinched their playoff spot with a win and certainly looked pointed that way, leading 60-44 at halftime.
Two things changed the outcome: The Bobcats’ defense picked up and point guard Kemba Walker was spectacular in the pick-and-roll. He finished with 21 points, 10 assists and five rebounds.
“It was embarrassing the way we played” in the first half, said Jefferson, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds. “It felt like we played two different games. Just shows that when we dedicate ourselves and focus on the right things, we’re good.”
They’re now 36-38 to the Wizards’ 38-36. They have one game left in Washington on April 9 with the Bobcats leading the season series 2-1.
Jefferson needed seven stitches in the first half above his right eye after a collision with Trevor Booker. Wearing a huge bandage post-game, Jefferson joked, “I’ll have to call my agent and tell him my modeling career is over.”
Whether it was the injury or the multiple big men the Wizards used to guard him, Jefferson wasn’t the same offensive force in the post he usually is. So coach Steve Clifford shifted the primary offensive focus in the second half to Walker’s pick-and-rolls.
“This was an opportunity to really show” his ballhandling and shooting, Walker said. “And to get it to our guys.”
Reserves Chris Douglas-Roberts (18 points) and Cody Zeller (15 points, eight rebounds) benefited from Walker’s passes. Jefferson recovered in the fourth quarter, making four of seven shots for eight points.
None of that would have mattered had the Bobcats not rectified their defense. It was just awful in the second quarter when the Wizards scored 40 points off 15-of-20 shooting from the field.
“We kind of got a little flustered in the first half,” Walker said. “We came in at the half, regrouped and guys stood up. It shows our resiliency.”
This is particularly gratifying for Walker and Gerald Henderson, who suffered through a 7-59 record (during a strike-shortened season) two seasons ago.
“We went through really low times in this organization. This is really exciting,” Walker said. “I sensed it early on (before training camp) when guys showed up (to work out) when they didn’t have to.”
This has Jefferson dreaming big: “We’ve got a long way to go, but we can be one of the elite teams in the East.”