(Photo Courtesy of Robert Lahser of the Charlotte Observer)
First and foremost, let’s all take a moment to remember, once more, that Kemba Walker is really, really competitive. This is a guy that let a youth-filled UCONN team to a national championship, and took the nation by storm in the process. So it came as no surprise to me that he was able to light up the Nets for 31 points. He did so off of 12-20 shooting, which leads me to believe that he’s beginning to get out of his recent shooting cold-spell that he’s been in since his shoulder injury against New York a while ago. Kemba was doing many Kemba things–driving the ball with great intensity, absorbing contact, floating in the air for his pull-up jumper—and it’s a thing of beauty when he’s in rhythm. It makes it easy to see why he’s the player that the front office wants to build around. Kemba finished the game with 5 rebounds and 2 assists, which really shows just how much the team relies on his scoring on most nights. I’d love to see Kemba become more of a distributor on offense as it would help the offense operate more fluidly, but considering how terrible the Bobcats shooting is (31% from the 3pt line, and 40% overall from the field), you can’t really blame Kemba for averaging fewer than 5 assists per game on the season.
While most of this game was won by Kemba’s aggressiveness and ability to score on offense, the Nets had to play without star point guard Deron Williams, whom re-injured his ankle early in the game after landing on Kemba’s foot. Williams is capable of making a huge impact on a game given his size and scoring ability, but this Nets team has really been struggling throughout the year regardless of his health. Instead, the Nets had to rely on Andray Blatche (25pts and 7 rebounds) and Joe Johnson (19 pts and 2 assists) for offense, as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett really struggled with the youthfulness of the Cats. There were multiple times in the 2nd quarter where Biz was able to beat KG on a few backdoor cuts for easy dunks, and it was very apparent that the pace the Cats were playing was very difficult for Brooklyn to deal with. There were times where KG and Paul Pierce both looked flat-out slow and old, which, as a basketball fan, makes me long for the days that the duo was 2/3 of the Boston “Three Amigos”. Take note kids, time will most certainly catch up with you.
The Bobcats started to take control of the game right after halftime, starting the 3rd quarter on a 12-0 run. This provided them enough momentum and confidence to control the rest of the game. The tough, defense-first play of Jeff Adrien (7pts, 10 rebounds, and a block) was great to see because his mentality seems to really spark and inspire the team. He embodies a lot of what Steve Clifford wants this team to be, and as long as he plays hard, I think he’ll always have a spot on the roster.
The Cats played without Al Jefferson yet again, as reports of his ankle injury being more severe than a basic sprain surfaced. It’s truly interesting, because this Charlotte team has exceeded most expectations already by hovering around a .500 record (currently 6-6, and good for 6th in the East if the playoffs were to start today) without their $13mill man. Al’s return will be long-waited and highly anticipated, and it will be interesting to see exactly how well he can mesh with the team. How (more) serious is this injury? Will it plague him the whole year? Will he slow down the youthful Cats? Will he facilitate ball movement from the post? Can the team overcome his defensive shortcomings? All of these are legitimate questions that will take time to answer, but it’s definitely something to think about until he returns.
The Cats got a win at home over a Nets team that has been heralded as a title contender, even if they were missing two of their starters (Williams and Lopez). Beating Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Jason Terry, and a resurgent Shaun Livingston (former Bobcat!) should always be a good thing, as easy wins are still wins. There will be nights we struggle, but tonight was not one of those nights. Rejoice, Cats fans, rejoice.