Too many unforced-error turnovers. And way too much Al Horford.
That’s what ended the Charlotte Bobcats’ two-game winning streak Friday night: Ten first-half turnovers led to 15 Atlanta Hawks points. Plus, Hawks center Horford got whatever shot he wanted whenever he wanted in a 101-91 Bobcats loss.
The Bobcats (6-5) knew going in the Hawks were the NBA’s best team at forcing turnovers. They made Atlanta’s job easy in the first half with lazy passes that turned immediately into Hawks points.
“They had 50 points in the paint. Our D-tran (transition defense) gave up easy baskets,” Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said. “They were going coast-to-coast with Horford getting cheap ones at the rim.”
That’s true, but it wasn’t the only problem. When the Hawks (7-4) were in half-court offense, Horford constantly was allowed to catch the ball in optimum scoring areas – what Dunlap calls “kill spots.”
Horford made 13 of 17 shots for 26 points and added 13 rebounds. It didn’t matter who guarded him – and just about every Charlotte big man took a turn – Horford was going to score.
Bobcats guard Ramon Sessions said there’s plenty to learn from this loss. Asked for an example, Sessions replied, “bumping them off their spots” next time.
The Bobcats had been on a roll defensively. Over their six previous games they’d held opponents to 91.5 points and 40 percent shooting. The Hawks finished Friday with 101 points off 54 percent shooting.
“They’ve got a lot of continuity in their offense,” Sessions said. “Guys who know what to do together.”
Going in it seemed the biggest challenge would be containing Hawks forward Josh Smith, whose 6-foot-9 height and rare athleticism create all sorts of matchup issues. Midway through the first half, Dunlap had rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist guard Smith. That gave up some height, but Kidd-Gilchrist had the quickness to shadow Smith, who had a relatively quiet 10 points.
The tradeoff was foul trouble; Kidd-Gilchrist committed three in the third quarter and played much of the fourth quarter with five, one short of being done for the night.
The Hawks didn’t need a big night from Smith because Horford and point guard Jeff Teague – a former Wake Forest star – came up big. Teague made three of his four 3-point attempts and finished the game with 12 assists.
“At halftime we felt like their thefts really hurt us. We cleaned that up,” Dunlap said.
True. But by then the damage was done. The Bobcats never led in the second half.