As a St. John's assistant, Mike Dunlap would watch Kemba Walker at Connecticut and think, how do you stop this guy?
Then Dunlap looked at video of Walker as a Charlotte Bobcats rookie. And the reaction would more resemble, what do you do with this guy?
The Walker who led UConn to the national championship had to be found, and Dunlap, now Bobcats coach, had a plan: "Open him up a little bit with pick-and-rolls and trust him.''
Walker justified that trust Friday with a career-high 30 points. That, combined with a last-possession miss by ex-Bobcat D.J. Augustin, added up to a 90-89 season-opening victory at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The stakes were obvious: The Bobcats ended last season on a 23-game losing streak. They were four losses from the longest streak in NBA history. Somebody had to halt this, and Walker did.
"Definitely something in the back of all our minds,'' Walker said of the mounting losses. "To get that over with is extremely important. Now let's keep this thing going.''
It's been a long time since any trend involving the Bobcats was an upswing. But there was a fresh energy about Friday night that included new players, new strategies and a reinvigorated crowd. Walker said the home noise the game was listed as a sellout at 19,124 was a true sixth-man experience.
Last season, just getting fans to stick around to the fourth quarter was a challenge.
The Bobcats played some solid defense, holding the Pacers to 40 percent shooting. They spent long stretches in a matchup zone that seemed to confuse the Pacers and limit their penetration.
"We didn't take advantage of the fact that they were junking up the game,'' Pacers forward David West said of the Bobcats' zone, more a college strategy. "That is a bad loss for us.''
Charlotte's starting frontcourt of Brendan Haywood, Byron Mullens and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn't shoot well (5-of-20), but they combined for 23 rebounds and kept Pacers center Roy Hibbert one of the best defensive big men in the East in foul trouble all night.
That left the scoring to guards Walker (10-of-21 from the field) and Gerald Henderson (18 points on 6-of-14). Walker overcame a four-point halftime deficit, scoring 12 points in the first seven minutes of the third quarter.
That was vintage Walker from UConn days: Creative stop-and-go drives to the rim that either produced layups (3-of-3 in the third quarter) or free throws (six trips to the line).
When Walker heard Dunlap used the word "trust'' regarding him Friday, he smiled with huge satisfaction.
"I feel like my coach trusts in me, and this is all about trust, all about confidence,'' Walker concluded. "Him having trust in me as my coach is definitely a huge deal.''
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