In their brief history the Charlotte Bobcats haven't had a whole lot of success. They've made the post-season just once, are notorious for making some of the more questionable draft choices in recent years; and hold the record for the lowest winning percentage in NBA history, when they went a craptastic 7 and 59 during the recent lockout shortened season.
But the Bobcats have had one, slightly quirky, thing going for them in recent years: The Charlotte Bobcats own the Toronto Raptors.
And after yesterday's debacle, you can make that 7 straight loses for the Raptors in Charlotte, and 12 loses in their last 15 games against the Bobcats overall. Some losing streaks are just hard to explain -- the Timberwolves' problems north of the 49th parallel is one that baffles the mind -- and the Raptors inability to beat a team that won 7 games (SEVEN!), just a couple of seasons ago, is inexplicable.
But yesterday's episode in North Carolinian ineptitude represented a new low. The Raptors could've been playing your dad's YMCA team and they still would've struggled, given how they began proceedings. Heading in to yesterday's tilt on MLK Day, the Bobcats had lost 10 of their previous 13 games, and were without arguably their best player, Kemba Walker. But none of that mattered against a team that looked half-asleep at both ends of the floor.
Things looked bright initially -- for the opening possession, at least -- as DeMar DeRozan made a corner 3 off a nice Kyle Lowry dish. It would soon go downhill fast, however. Ramon Sessions, who finished the day with 21 points, took advantage of a sloppy Terrence Ross pass (T-Ross' off-the-bounce game is non-existant) to score an easy lay-up, and proceeded to get to the rim a couple more times, as the Bobcats built up an early lead. A 6 point advantage quickly became a 15 point lead as the Bobcats, led by a first quarter Al Jefferson double-double, ended the first 12 minutes leading, 26-11. Incidentally, those 11 points represented a season low points total for the Raptors in a quarter.
Oh, and speaking of Big Al...
As he so often does, Jefferson obliterated the Raptors, finishing the game with 22 points and 19 rebounds. He drove to the bucket, hit from midrange, and pump-faked Jonas Valanciunas out of his socks on more than one occasion. In-fact, Jefferson took Valanciunas to school. But it wasn't the nice kind of school with no correct answers, and cartoon animals instead of grades; but the kind of school where you get beaten with wooden sticks, and verbally abused by the teachers.
The Raptors shot just 25% in the first quarter, and things would get worse. Josh McRoberts started hitting 3s (Ugh), Jannero Pargo got in on the act, Big Al continued his reign of terror in the front-court; and the likes of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist -- and really, anyone with a pulse -- were able to cut through the lane like a knife through butter. The Bobcats closed the half with a 55-36 lead, shooting 55% from the field.
DeRozan had 16 points at the half for the Raps (he'd finish with 25) but once again he took far too many pull-up 2s, and neglected to drive to the basket (The Raps shot just 10 free-throws in the game compared to Charlotte's 33). As I've stated before, I have no problem with DeRozan taking those 16-18 foot jumpers if they're catch-and-shoot opportunities, coming off screens; but unfortunately he's still in love with those multiple dribble, contested 2-pointers.
The second half started off as badly as the first half ended -- DeRozan and Ross had a major communication breakdown allowing Gerald Henderson to cut in behind them for an easy bucket. More Jefferson domination, and laughable defending, saw the Bobcats build up a 30 point lead. Casey began to mix things up thereafter, tossing out Jonas and Amir Johnson (both were awful) and bringing in the bench unit.
And low and behold, the bench mob brought some much needed energy. Chuck Hayes was awesome, finishing the game with a double-double (12 points, 13 rebounds) and providing the kind of brick-wall post-defense on Jefferson that was needed to slow the big man down. Novak began hitting some threes, while Greivis Vasquez, who would go on to flirt with a triple-double (15-7-9) was the only Raptors willing to drive in the lane and create for his teammates. The Raps finished out the quarter on a 19-7 run, trailing 78-60.
While the Raptors were down 18 heading into the 4th, they would've been down by more if it weren't for offensive rebounding. The Raps shot just 41% from the floor, but almost made up for that putrid gunning by grabbing 17 offensive rebounds.
The Bobcats started the 4th by reminding us all that, despite the Raptors' desire to make them look like the '96 Bulls, they are actually the Charlotte Bobcats and aren't all that great at professional basketball. Some sloppy turnovers, great defensive pressure, and trifectas by Lowry and Vasquez, helped Casey's boys cut the lead to 10 midway through the quarter. Vasquez pulled up with a Steph Curry-style 3 in transition, before a Lowry lay-up cut the lead to just 5.
Suddenly the Raps were threatening to mount a comeback of Golden State Warriors proportions.
Sessions hit a huge bucket for the Bobcats to stretch the lead back to 5, but after a Hayes tip-in (Seriously, Chuck was awesome) cut it down to 3, Lowry was fouled making an incredible shot driving through the lane. It was now a one point game. Unfortunately, Lowry missed the ensuing free-throw; and that's as close as the Raps would get. After Sessions made 2 free-throws, DeRozan capped off a thoroughly underwhelming afternoon by losing his handle on a drive to the basket, and it was essentially over after that.
The Raps -- the bench unit, in particular -- mounted a valiant comeback attempt; but really, this team should not have been down 30 to the Bobcats to begin with.
After playing some of their best basketball in years during the month of December, and early January, the Raps have regressed. In their last four games they've lost to 3 teams well under .500, and have looked awful in the process. The Raps are still a playoff team in the Eastern Conference -- that hasn't changed -- but, as it's worth reiterating, they're not good enough to take quarters off against any team in the NBA. They took 2 and a half quarters off in Charlotte (boy did they ever) and paid for it.
They'll look to get back over .500 when they face the Mavericks at the ACC on Wednesday. Yesterday's effort, and execution, definitely won't cut it against Dallas.
Additional Game Notes
- As mentioned, Jonas and Amir were hot garbage yesterday (4 points and 9 rebounds combined). It would be nice to write that off as an anomaly, but for whatever reason (ankles, illness, etc.) they've been awful for a few games now. Al Jefferson was just the latest big-man -- after Jared Sullinger and Pau Gasol -- to do whatever the hell he wanted in the paint.
- If Terrence Ross isn't hitting his jumper he absolutely has to be engaged defensively, as he has zero shot-making abilities at the present time. Yesterday he was a complete non-factor.
- Casey's plays coming out of timeouts are still awful, but I've got to give him credit for mixing things up with the bench unit yesterday. His decision to put Hayes on Jefferson paid dividends, even if the team still came up short.
- Greivis Vasquez had his best game in a Raptor uniform and it's not even close.
- Hey Devlin, stop talking about the Raptors deserving two players in the All-Star game when the team is down 30 to the stinkin' Bobcats!
- Yes Devlin, the Raps are 3rd in points allowed per game; but they rank 24th in pace. Very misleading. Maybe one day broadcasters will treat us like adults and use points per 100 possessions, rather than points per game.
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is already an elite defender, but boy oh boy, that jump-shot is horrific.