For one night Al Jefferson wasn’t Al Jefferson and the Charlotte Bobcats’ world didn’t implode after all.
The Memphis Grizzlies did anything and everything to make sure center Jefferson wouldn’t be the player to beat them. That resulted in a six-point, 2-for-13 night for the Bobcats’ first scoring option. It also resulted in a 92-89 Bobcats victory.
This is the Bobcats’ first four-game winning streak since 2011. Even more importantly they strung together those four victories over five nights against tough competition.
Jefferson fell below double-figures scoring for the first time in 20 games. From this game’s outset the Grizzlies sent double-teams at Jefferson the second the ball found him near the basket.
The Bobcats didn’t always react ideally to that defensive wrinkle. But point guard Kemba Walker (31 points) made good use of the pick-and-roll and hit all 10 of his free throws. And reserve Anthony Tolliver made three fourth-quarter 3-pointers to hold off the 31-24 Grizzlies.
So what do you do when a team is bent on shutting down Jefferson?
“Other guys have got to step up,” Walker said. “I was really aggressive shooting the basketball. So was Josh (McRoberts) and AT (Tolliver) got off some great ones.”
It’s easy to see why Jefferson would draw so much defensive attention: He’s scored 26 or more points in six of his previous seven games. But Bobcats coach Steve Clifford isn’t particularly concerned that Saturday will serve as a template for how other teams guard them.
“They have to have a (Marc) Gasol – not just a great player, a great defensive player,” Clifford said of the 7-foot-1 center. “There are just not many teams that could play like that.”
The Bobcats were outscored in the lane 44-34, yet still led this game by as much as 13 points. Clifford liked how his players eventually adapted in the second half.
“We almost had to play the way we did early without him,” Clifford said, referring to Jefferson’s November ankle injury. “He gave up his post game and screen-and-rolled.”
This victory made the Bobcats 27-30. They have climbed out of the eighth spot in the East, passing the Atlanta Hawks, who beat the New York Knicks Saturday.
One of the impressive things about this week was the second game of back-to-backs. They had lost eight of those in a row before beating the Detroit Pistons Wednesday and the Grizzlies Saturday.
“(Clifford) brought to our attention how badly we’ve played in back-to-backs,” said Tolliver. “Usually the team that wins those is the more focused.”
Now the Bobcats have a five-day break from games before a brutal four-game stretch: At San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Miami, followed by a home game against the Indiana Pacers.
“We’re going to have to be confident,” Clifford said. “You can argue we play the four best teams in the league, three on the road.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
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