The early season achievements of the Charlotte Bobcats have hit a snag. After beginning the season 7-5, the Bobcats have since lost their last five contests.
Other than a 45-point blowout-loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, all of these losses have been by a margin of six points or fewer. However, these struggles in close games are inconsistent with earlier in the season, with six of their seven victories being by four points or fewer. After this early success, what is the cause of the Bobcats’ recent struggles in tight games?
Though some might point to a regression to the mean, I think the main reason is the Bobcats’ lack of execution down the stretch of games. The stats are the first indicator of that being the issue. In those four close-losses, the Bobcats production in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter and the five-minute overtime period they played against the Portland Trail Blazers has been less than stellar, to put it nicely. In those 25 total minutes, the Bobcats have shot 30.9 percent from the field, 31.2 percent from three-point range, been out-rebounded 35-25 by their opponents, and turned the ball over eleven times.
Those stats show a sub-par performance by the Bobcats in crunch-time, which has resulted in them being outscored by their opponents by a combine 66-41 in the closing minutes of these four losses. When a team is missing shots, being out-rebounded and turning the ball over in the key stretches of a game, they tend to get outscored; the Bobcats are proving this.
However, their ineptitude in the closing minutes of these games isn’t fully told through the box score or the play-by-play. Watching these games, the Bobcats look like an Amish man wandering through New York City—completely lost. Whether it be Ben Gordon turning the ball over, Byron Mullens and Ramon Sessions jacking up ill-advised shots or Bismack Biyombo missing three-foot put-backs, the Bobcats seem to make wrong moves at the worst possible time.
One of the reasons that the Bobcats were playing surprisingly well at the start of this season was how they were running their offense. Last year, the team seemed to have no rhythm and was throwing up shots like the kid at the YMCA that thinks he’s God’s gift to the game of basketball. But with new head coach Mike Dunlap taking the helm this season, the Bobcats instituted an innovative concept—running plays. With Dunlap’s new system harnessing the Bobcats into a smooth-running offense, their offense was allowing them to compete and ultimately secure victories.
That offensive system deteriorates in the clutch. The Bobcats lose their focus and stop running designed plays. Instead, they revert to their old ways by trying too many plays in isolation that eventually end with contested shots.
Dunlap even addressed these problems in his post-game press-conference after their 118-112 overtime loss to the Trail Blazers. Essentially, Dunlap said that it felt like his team was unsure of what they should do in the clutch when they have an opportunity to win the game. It’s uncharted territory for this team considering their recent history.
The Bobcats have been playing solid basketball this season, giving themselves a chance to win in the majority of their games. However, if they are unable to remain composed down the stretch of close games and continue to run their offensive sets as those games wind down, the Bobcats are most likely going to be experiencing the same lack of success that they’ve grown accustomed to.