DENVER This was a special play, so Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford gave it a special name.
"We call that 'Kentucky,'....Kentucky defense," Clifford joked of the game-saving block small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had in the Bobcats' 101-98 road victory over the Denver Nuggets.
The joke is this was nothing like a "play," but rather an instinct, the kind the Bobcats hoped ex-Wildcat Kidd-Gilchrist would pull off frequently when they chose him No. 2 overall two Junes ago.
With the Nuggets down two and possessing the ball with nine seconds left, Evan Fournier missed a six-foot jump shot. The ball ended up right in front of Denver center Timofey Mozgov for what seemingly would be a layup or dunk that would send this game to overtime.
Instead Kidd-Gilchrist swooped in from behind, blocking Mozgov's attempt in what was probably his most consequential play as a Bobcat.
Center Al Jefferson made one of two free throws with 1.7 seconds left to account for the final margin, leaving the Bobcats 20-27 on the season.
Kidd-Gilchrist (eight points, six rebounds and two blocks) was naturally elated afterward.
"I didn't make my free throws (4-of-10 from the line), so I had to make up for it," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "That was instinct. It doesn't really show up on the stat sheet, but that's what I'm all about."
This was a game the Bobcats easily could have lost at the outset of a four-game West Coast trip. They blew a 14-point first-half lead, they trailed by as much as five in the third quarter, and Jefferson (who matched his Bobcats high with 35 points) committed his fourth foul with about three minutes left in the third.
That sent Jefferson to the bench and Clifford hoped to sit Jefferson until the game's last seven minutes, so that he could stretch two remaining fouls until the end of this game.
It was apparent the Bobcats would never survive an onslaught by Nuggets guard Randy Foye (33 points) without Jefferson scoring in the post. The Nuggets lost both their point guards to injury: Starter Ty Lawson before the game to a rotator cuff strain and backup Nate Robinson to a sprained knee.
With 7 1/2 minutes left Clifford took the risk of reinserting Jefferson. Except 10-season veteran Jefferson (13-of-24 from the field) didn't see it as such a risk.
"I'm a guy who knows how not to foul. If he'd put me in with 10 minutes left, I'd know what to do," Jefferson described. "But coach did a good job of knowing when to put me back in."
Jefferson has been spectacular of late; this was his tenth consecutive game scoring 20 or more points. He said he knew he was picking the right place to sign last summer when Clifford told him the following:
"We've got to find easy ways for you to get the ball in the fourth quarter."
That they did Wednesday, with Jefferson scoring 11 points in the final period on 4-of-7 shooting.
And he might be getting some help soon. After the game point guard Kemba Walker confirmed he intends to practice Thursday for the first time since spraining his left ankle Jan. 18. If that practice goes well, Walker could play as soon as Friday's road game with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
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