If you could script a home opener, this is how you’d do it. Up and coming opponent, close game, big crowd, loud crowd and the game comes down to a final shot and a final stop.
“Well, you’d like to win every game by 30,” says Charlotte guard Gerald Henderson.
Henderson would. But for fans of the Bobcats, this is better. They lost their road opener at Houston, fading badly in the second half. Friday was the Bobcats’ season debut at Time Warner Cable Arena, and they played without prized free-agent acquisition Al Jefferson, the big man who sat out with an injured ankle.
Cleveland, which never led, tied the score with 2 minutes, 8 seconds to play. The score was still tied with 1:20 to play. After a Cavaliers miss, Henderson fought through the bigger guy for a rebound.
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With a minute to play, Henderson found Kemba Walker at the top of the key. Walker went up from 25 feet before Jarrett Jack could get to him, and there was never a doubt where the ball was going. No matter where you sat you could tell. It was going in.
With 12.2 seconds remaining, and the Cavaliers needing a 3, Jack thought he had room at the key. A tall teammate, Henderson thinks it was Josh McRoberts, made a move toward Jack. Jack went up and Henderson went up with him.
Instead of seeing the basket, Jack, a very good shooter, saw Henderson’s hands and hit nothing but air.
Officials stopped the game to look at the replay.
“I don’t think I touched him,” Henderson says.
“You touched him,” Walker says.
Walker laughs. He’s kidding.
The Bobcats won 90-84.
Walker was fantastic. He scored 23 points on 14 field-goal attempts, and added seven assists, four rebounds, three steals and a career high – and I don’t even need to look this up – two blocked shots. He blocked more shots than any Cavalier.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 15 points and six rebounds and he imposed himself on defense. Bismack Biyombo scored 11 points, added 10 rebounds and blocked as many shots as Walker. Biyombo missed only one field-goal attempt, and it was slightly out of his range – seven feet instead of six. Starting in place of Jefferson, Biyombo was intense at both ends.
The Bobcats were intense. Jeff Adrien, who sits near the end of the bench, got up and played as if he wanted never to sit again. He played 11 minutes, hit the only shot he took and the three free throws he took, grabbed three rebounds and blocked as many shots as Walker.
“He helped win it for us,” Henderson says. “He really played with energy.”
McRoberts took three field-goal attempts and missed them all. He collected more fouls (5) than rebounds (4).
But he had a game-high eight assists. In the NFL, some quarterbacks are called game managers. McRoberts managed this game. Whatever Charlotte needed he attempted to provide.
Another gratuitious football reference: Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera walked away from the court smiling, talking about how exciting the game had been.
About McRoberts, Charlotte rookie coach Steve Clifford says: “His decision making … is so exceptional. A lot of times when it’s close, it’s hard to play without him out there.”
Lastly, rookie Cody Zeller looked NBA ready with nine points and five rebounds in less than 19 minutes. He was the fourth pick in the draft. Anthony Bennett, the top pick, played only 12:32. He grabbed one rebound and failed to score.
As the game wound down, almost every fan stood, and the arena turned big-time loud.
This is a different time and perhaps a different Bobcats’ team. Fans came to believe, and why wouldn’t they?