Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford didn’t mind losing his voice so long as his team didn’t lose this game.
“Overtime – the extra five minutes,” Clifford croaked about when his vocal cords gave out.
The near-voiceless coach didn’t have to say much because his players made such a statement with their defense. They held the Washington Wizards to one point and 0-of-8 shooting in the extra period of the Bobcats’ 94-88 victory at Verizon Center.
Obviously this game had big stakes. By winning, the Bobcats pulled into a tie with the Wizards for the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Both teams are 40-38, but the Bobcats also claimed the tiebreaker by virtue of their 3-1 head-to-head record against Washington.
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The Bobcats gave up all of a 20-point first-half lead as the Wizards pulled ahead 78-77 with 51/2 minutes left in regulation on Bradley Beal’s 15-foot pull-up jumper.
Charlotte center Al Jefferson forced overtime with a reverse layup with 3.2 seconds left.
From there it was a snuff-out of the Wizards’ offense. The only score the Bobcats ended up needing in overtime was point guard Kemba Walker’s 3-pointer with just under three minutes left.
Walker didn’t have much of a shooting night (6-of-21 from the field for 17 points), but that didn’t dissuade his teammates from getting him the ball in clutch situations.
“He’s got courage,” Clifford said. “He wants the ball late and he’ll take the big shot.”
Walker’s reaction after the shot fell?
“Finally!” he said, then he expanded on the trust his coaches and teammates have in him.
“I think they depend on me, and that’s a very comforting feeling,” Walker said.
This was the fourth big stakes game the Bobcats have played this season. They won two games on back-to-back nights against the Detroit Pistons when they and the Pistons had similar records in February. Then they beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in early March to clinch a tiebreaker over the then-threatening Cavs.
Jefferson (20 points and 18 rebounds) said winning these games helps as much for experiencing playoff-type pressure as the actual in-season accomplishment.
“It shows how we’ve grown,” Jefferson said of the season’s journey. “Remember that first game against Washington? (A 97-83 loss.) We gave up and put our heads down.
“Now we know what we have to do.”
Walker agrees, and credits the trust and camaraderie the Bobcats have established over the seven months this group has been together.
“The best thing about us is when things get tough, we always come closer together,” Walker said. “Like tonight, we started off really well and in the second half (the Wizards) came out blazing.
“They made shots, they made big plays, but in those huddles we never draw apart. We always come closer together. That shows our resiliency.”