When Charlotte Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said he had to find a third scorer to win Monday, he meant that quite literally in the fourth quarter.
Kemba Walker scored seven points in that last period. Ramon Sessions added six. And the rest of the Bobcats – eight of them entered the game – provided zip. That was a huge factor in the Bobcats’ 100-94 home loss to the Houston Rockets.
This certainly looked like the end to a 14-game home losing streak when the Bobcats led by 12. Instead the streak is now a team-record 15 after the Rockets outscored the Bobcats 26-13 in the final period.
Houston coach Kevin McHale did two things to get back into this game: Bench point guard Jeremy Lin, who was defenseless against Walker (a career-high 35 points) and trap the ball out of Walker’s hands at all cost.
That limited Walker to 2-of-5 shooting and no assists playing 10 of the game’s last 12 minutes.
“It’s on me. I’ve got to do a better job against the trap,” said Walker, whose previous career high was 32. “I’ve got to make better decisions; if I can’t find my shot then I’ve got to make better plays” for others.
The 10-31 Bobcats aren’t a particularly strong passing team; only 17 of their 34 baskets Monday were assisted. The crux of this offense is Walker or Sessions (19 points) breaking down his defender. Then someone else – Gerald Henderson, Ben Gordon, whoever – contributes enough else to edge past an opponent.
The only other Bobcat to reach double figures Monday was power forward Hakim Warrick (10 points) and he missed all three of his shots in the decisive fourth quarter.
The Bobcats had it going for a while, leading by 11 at halftime. Lin, who signed a three-year, $25 million-plus contract, was abused by Walker. The margin was 35-4 in points, with Walker making 12 of 21 shots from the field.
“When Lin backed off me (to not give up constant layups) I was confident and I made them,” Walker said of his six 3-pointers.
Lin left the game at the end of the third quarter and never got back off the bench. The Rockets made up a seven-point deficit the rest of the way with James Harden scoring 12 of his 29 points in the final period. Harden is exceptional at creating and cashing in free-throw attempts. He was 19-of-21 from the foul line Monday, including 10-of-10 in the fourth quarter.
By the game’s conclusion Harden was primarily responsible for a 17-free throw differential between the Rockets and Bobcats, a stat that resonated with Dunlap.
“That was the difference in this game,” Dunlap concluded. “Their free throws versus ours.”
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