Poor shooting dooms Bobcats in loss to Pacers
NOV 27, 2013 11:01p ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Both the Indiana Pacers (14-1) and Charlotte Bobcats (7-9) were shooting below 30 percent for the first three quarters in an unsightly offensive game that allowed the Bobcats to keep the Pacers within an arm's reach through three, but a 39-point fourth quarter helped the Pacers blow away the Bobcats 99-74. Here's four observations from the second consecutive home loss in a rough Thanksgiving week so far for the Bobcats:
1. The offense continues to struggle
The struggle is real for the Bobcats on the offensive end of the floor. They ranked 29th in the league in scoring offense and last in the league in field goal percentage and adjusted field goal percentage. Needless to say, the arrival of the league's top ranked defense in the Indiana Pacers didn't bring any holiday warm and fuzzies for the Bobcats offense.
It started ugly and it stayed that way. The Pacers held the Bobcats to the lowest output in a quarter of any team all season with only 11 in the first quarter.
"You play against the really good defensive teams, they try to keep you from getting into the middle of the lane and they have really long, strong defenders on the perimeter, and they really protect the basket well when you get there," Gerald Henderson said. "Playing a team like that if your jump shots not falling, it's going to be tough to beat them."
It wasn't falling for the Bobcats. They shot just 31 percent on the night and didn't get a scorer with more than 16 (Jefferson) on the night. That makes it nearly impossible to win, despite how well you play defensively -- which they did for much of the night, holding the Pacers to just 28 percent shooting through three quarters before giving up 39 points in the fourth quarter.
Poor fourth quarter defense aside, an offense averaging just 89 points per game isn't ever going to get many wins when Kemba Walker and Henderson combined go 6-for-33 from the field. Clifford said it wasn't about the quality of shots but rather about the strength of the Pacers defensively. It's so hard to get cheap, easy ones that can get you going against the Pacers because they're huge on the back line protecting the rim. It doesn't help either that they possess more strength and length on the perimeter than perhaps any team in the league. That forces a lot of pull-up, mid-range jumpers.
"We didn't take many bad shots tonight. I think my shots specifically I thought I had some really good shots tonight that I've been knocking down, but they were not falling tonight," Henderson said. "Kemba the same thing, he didn't take any bad shots but for whatever reason they weren't going in."
Regardless of the reasons for the backcourt's struggles, the offense clearly needs work if this team's going to stay the course as a playoff contender in an incredibly weak Eastern Conference. Clifford says they have the talent but it's just being more disciplined in what they're doing and expediting the integration of Jefferson back into the offense after being in and out all season with an ankle injury. That gives him hope the offense can be better going forward.
"I'm just concerned with the offense, obviously, overall," Clifford said.
"Right now we're 28th in the league in offense and now we've played a majority of those games without Al. If you took Paul George off of their team, they'd struggle offensively, too. So to me until we've played enough games when Al's been playing and getting his rhythm, then we'll really be able to determine what more specifically we have to do offensively."
2. Bobcats need to follow the Pacers lead for building a championship contender in a small market
The model arrived on Wednesday night, possessing the makeup the Bobcats are dreaming they can one day emulate.
There's the league's stingiest defense, the young budding star cultivated through the draft that just signed the long-term extension, and a roster full of role players around him brought together through savvy trades, bargain free agent deals and draft-day strikes. This is what Larry Bird envisioned would eventually develop in Indianapolis with some patience, and it's the type of model Bobcats general manager Rich Cho's hoping can eventually come to fruition in Charlotte with a little patience of their own.
No reasonable expectation would have the Bobcats hovering in that elite company the Pacers cohabit anytime soon, but what you saw Wednesday night was exactly the recipe the Bobcats are looking for. This is how small markets build, and the Bobcats are doing it the right way with defense, where they ranked third in the league in scoring defense heading into Wednesday night's game.
"This is night-and-day from the Bobcats teams we've seen over the past few years. They have the mark of a Van Gundy, Thibodeau type of defense," Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said. "They're a great defensive team right off the bat."
That's the right start for Charlotte. There aren't illusions of the Bobcats ever having the dollars or the attention to build through free agency stars like the Lakers have done over the years or like Miami pulled off to start their run. So it starts with building an elite defense like the Pacers did and they feel like they're heading in that direction in Clifford's first year.
"Our defense is very good. Our offense needs work," Clifford said.
The same could have been said for the Pacers three years ago after consecutive playoff misses.
3. The three-point shooting disparity continues to kill Charlotte.
The defense from a season ago may have improved drastically but the perimeter shooting sure hasn't. The swan song remains the same in that department for the Bobcats, who continue to have a gaping disparity on the stat sheet game after game at the three-point line.
The Pacers knocked down 10-of-25 Wednesday night from deep -- albeit a couple coming in garbage time -- but it's more about the lack of threes the Bobcats continue to hit (or not hit). They only knocked down 3-of-9 Wednesday night and are ranked 28th in the league in three-point percentage (30.9 percent) and 29th in three-pointers made (4.8). That makes it tough on Jefferson in the post and brutal on an offense that struggles to score as it is. Why would anyone fear doubling down on Jefferson when Walker (29 percent), Henderson (31 percent) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (0 percent) are on the wings for a kick-out, open three?
"Every team is different. We're not going to make a ton of threes. That's not the way we're built," Clifford said. "What we have to be able to do, which we've done a good job of until tonight, is we have to be able to get to the free throw line more than our opponents and we can't turn the ball over. And then as we develop our post game with Al, to go along with the other things we've developed so far, I think we can be a good team."
All that's true, but three-point shooting is becoming more and more prevalent and important in the NBA with each passing year and you can't help but wonder how limiting this team's shooting is. Look at the top four three-point shooting teams a season ago: Golden State, Miami, Oklahoma City and San Antonio – also known as your two NBA Finals participants and two Playoff contenders.
4. No surprise here but the Pacers are even better than they were a season ago.
Clifford's been to an NBA Finals. He's seen the makeup of a potential championship team. He thinks he saw another Wednesday night.
"You can tell they have a belief they can win the whole thing," Clifford said. "They're on a mission."
They looked like they could have been the NBA champions last year when they took the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, but they've been on a whole different level so far this year. They're now owners of a 14-1 record and cruised to a 25-point victory despite shooting just 29 percent through three quarters. It didn't matter that Paul George only played 27 minutes with foul trouble. With defense like they play, you can afford an off night offensively.
"When you take a pro team and they know they're good enough to win the whole thing, they're driven," Clifford said. "And that's the way they played tonight."
At this point, the Eastern Conference Playoffs first two rounds look like they'll be a formality -- all setting up the culmination of another repeat of what was a whale of a series a season ago.
This year the Pacers could have home court, though.
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