1. The Bobcats salvage the final home game of the year, beating the playoff-bound Sixers 101-98 on Tuesday night at the Cable Box. AP story here, box score here. The Bobcats keep their faint playoff hopes alive as they move to 2.5 games back of the idle Pistons; the Bulls won on Tuesday night to move a half game ahead of Detroit into 7th place.
2. Decent attendance for the home closer, though for most of the game it was a disconcertingly sleepy crowd. Totally deserved, given the Bobcats recent collapse, but disconcerting nonetheless for that many people to be making so little noise.
If it hadn’t been for the semi-hot finish, the acknowledgement of the Tar Heels National Championship win and the halftime fan appreciation giveways (gift certificates, signed basketballs, et al.) would have battled it out for the loudest moment.
3. For awhile, it looked like this one was going to follow the same script the Bobcats have run into the ground over the past couple of weeks: build early lead (44-24 midway through the second quarter) running offense to perfection and defending well, gradually let opponent back into the game by slacking off (Philly won the third quarter 32-16, good for a two point lead heading at the end of the third), then go totally cold and inept in the fourth quarter to blow it. Alas, the Cats wrote a new ending tonight.
4. Down 98-95 after an Igoudala jumper with 1:42 left, Okafor drew a shooting foul and hit both free throws to pull the Cats to within one. From there, the Cats locked down on defense; Philly wouldn’t score again. After an Andre Miller miss/Okafor rebound, DJ got a decent look at a three but missed. Okafor was able to punch the rebound back out; the Cats retained possession and Larry Brown used the opportunity to call a timeout. 36 seconds left on the clock at this point, Cats down 98-97.
Out of the timeout, the big shot was taken by (wait… wait… you guessed it!) Raymond Felton. It was a 15 foot runner/floater that Felton shot about 12 feet. I kid you not. Perhaps used to Felton’s, ahem, lack of success when taking big shots, Wallace was crashing the boards and happened to be in the exact right spot at the exact right time. He nabbed the airball and quickly put it back for the game-winning basket with 28 seconds left — 99-98 Cats.
The Cats got another stop on the other end, with Okafor getting credit for the rebound and Gerald taking the foul. Gerald hit both his free throws, thus we arrive at the final margin, 101-98. The Sixers still had 11 seconds left, and got decent looks at threes from Igoudala and Willie Green in the time, but both were contested well by the Cats and neither fell.
5. Before pulling a DIop on the potential game-winner, Felton had a great game. He set a new career high with 32 points (12-20 FG, 3-6 3PT, 5-7 FT) and added 6 rebounds and 5 assists (vs. 5 turnovers, though). This one game sorta serves as a microcosm for Felton’s overall game. He often shows enough that you get lulled into the sense that he might be good enough; good enough to be your starting PG for a decade, good enough to take that big shot. But just when you start getting comfortable with the notion — boom — an airball. And you can only hope and pray that Gerald Wallace is there to save your ass.
Speaking of Wallace: 29 points (8-18 FG, 13-17 FT), 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
Though Okafor didn’t get many looks/touches on the offensive end (9 points on 3-6 FG) he was strong on the boards: 12 total, 5 offensive.
6. As you might have guessed given the flow of the game that I referred to above, most of the damage that Felton and Wallace did was in the first half. In fact, both had 20+ points in the first half, and only a fraction of that afterwards.
This is a problem that the Bobcats have to figure out for next year. Why does the offense run so well in the first half, then grind to a halt in crunch time? Obviously, this has a lot to with the simple fact that the defense tightens up as the game goes on. Playoff teams can generally still find a way to score in high pressure situations; but the Cats, without a clear go-to guy, haven’t figured it out yet.
Hopefully, the team will learn from all these close, important games they’ve played in the last month and figure out how to manufacture more buckets in crunch time.
7. Four games left, all on the road as the Cats give up the arena to Bob Johnson’s ego and a bunch of smelly horses (i.e. The Jumper Classic). Next up we will see Kevin Durant and his improving Thunder squad in Oklahoma City on Friday night.