Eight-season NBA veteran Ben Gordon looked around Monday and saw teammates mentally placing this one in the win column.
On one level that makes sense: The Bobcats led by 18 with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Certainly they couldn't blow that.
Turns out they could. In what power forward Byron Mullens called a flat-out "choke,'' the Bobcats fell in overtime to the Portland Trail Blazers 118-112 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Gordon is one of the more senior players on a generally young team. This felt like a lesson.
"I know we were getting excited,'' up 92-74, Gordon said. "We kept making plays at the (offensive) end. NBA games are long and I've seen crazy things happen. You've got to keep your foot on their neck.''
Gordon made many of those exciting plays. He set a Bobcats record with eight 3-pointers, finishing the game with 29 points off the bench. He crossed the 10,000 barrier in career scoring Monday, too.
But there was nothing celebratory in Gordon's tone post-game. He knew there's no way they should have lost this, falling to 7-9 and extending a losing streak to four games.
The Bobcats blew this one on drives by Portland point guard Damian Lillard (14 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime) and put-backs, primarily by LaMarcus Aldridge (nine rebounds in the fourth and overtime).
"We had it, then we didn't,'' said Mullens (12 points and 12 rebounds). "They got two back-to-back offensive rebounds, and that's on me. That shouldn't have happened.''
The subtler problem was the breakdown in the Bobcats' half-court offense. The Blazers over-played Charlotte's pick-and-roll, double-teaming ballhandler Kemba Walker and daring him to find cutters to the basket. It was effective in slowing the Bobcats' offense to a crawl.
Impressive as Gordon was from 3-point range, coach Mike Dunlap felt his team became too dependent on the outside shot. He blamed himself Monday for not changing that pattern more assertively and for not substituting more aggressively.
That's the tradeoff inherent to the Bobcats' roster. The small lineup offers more scoring options, but sacrifices rebounding. The Bobcats ended up being out-boarded by seven. Also Portland outscored the Bobcats in the lane 48-40.
"I think we could have gone more in the paint,'' Dunlap said. "That's where you get free throws.''
Even so, it was a spectacular night for Gordon, who was acquired in an off-season trade with the Detroit Pistons. Hitting eight of 12 3s, when every defender is conscious of you, is no small feat.
"It doesn't really matter,'' how closely they guard him, Gordon said. "I really don't need much space, especially when I'm feeling like that.''