As usual, Charlotte was led by Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, who combined for 44 points, 19 rebounds and 11 assists for Bobcats.
Although Cleveland was essentially eliminated from playoff contention last night with its’ 117-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks Friday night, Saturday night’s loss to Charlotte makes it nearly impossible for Mike Brown’s squad to sneak into the highly-contested Eastern Conference playoff race (yes, that was sarcasm). Even if the Cavs win their final four games, it would take Atlanta and the New York Knicks to lose all but one of their final games for Cleveland to make it into April’s festivities.
On the other hand, the Bobcats are officially in the playoffs. How did they do it? By being the polar opposite of the underachieving Cavaliers.
First of all, both teams were looking for a new coach this off season. Cleveland chose to go with what I call a “recycled” coach, Mike Brown. Lawrence Frank, Mike Dunleavy and Larry Drew would also fall into the “recycled” category. The Bobcats went a different route, choosing to give long-time assistant Steve Clifford a chance to run the show. Clifford is now a Coach of the Year candidate, while Brown might be brushing off his resume this summer.
Charlotte and Cleveland are also polar opposites when it comes to on-court philosophies. Offensively, the two teams have considerably different approaches. Charlotte is an inside-out team, running a large majority of its’ offense through Jefferson, while Cleveland relies heavily on jump shots from its’ shoot-first guards (namely Kyrie Irving, who dropped a career-high 44 points Saturday night, and Dion Waiters). Yes, Cleveland does score more points per game than Charlotte, but Charlotte’s offense is consistent and controlled, while Cleveland’s is sporadic and streaky.
Defensively the two teams are also on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Charlotte is a top-five defensive team, holding opponents to just 97.2 points per game. Meanwhile, the Cavs are just 16th in the NBA in defensive stinginess, allowing 101.9 points a night. Charlotte is a team completely devoted to winning games at the defensive end, displaying top-of-the-line fundamentals and fun-to-watch grit. Cleveland on the other hand often looks disinterested on the defensive end, especially when its shots aren’t falling.
Going into the season, most people had Cleveland in the playoffs and Charlotte in the lottery. Looks like the experts whiffed on another one. Charlotte has been an atypical squad; one of the only teams in the NBA to run its offense through a back-to-the-basket scorer. The Cats should be commended for that (although a swift first-round exit and an excruciatingly-boring first-round series with the Indiana Pacers might keep Charlotte’s biggest proprietors quiet … or asleep).