The fourth quarter of the Charlotte-Washington game felt like and looked like and sounded like a playoff.
True, it was a Monday night and thousands of Time Warner Arena seats were empty. And the Bobcats still have eight regular-season games to play.
But if you saw the second quarter you saw the Bobcats as bad as they have been all season. You saw them, briefly, as bad as they were two years ago in their seven-victory season.
They allowed a 10-point second-quarter lead to become a 16-point halftime deficit. They allowed the Wizards to claim the lane and all but stick a flag in it. They played no apparent defense. They were outscored in the quarter 40-19.
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The crowd was silent because fans had no reason to cheer – except the contingent of Washington fans, one of whom wore a Michael Jordan Wizards jersey.
Why talk about the second quarter? To appreciate the fourth quarter, you need to remember the second.
If you’re a fan of the Bobcats, of Charlotte, of improbable comebacks and possibilities, this was for you. The game turned slowly. But for the Bobcats, it turned fast enough.
They ended it beautifully, outscoring the Wizards 30-14 in the fourth quarter and beating them 100-94.
If you were in the building, you were part of something pretty good. The passion built and built, fans standing and screaming and filling the place with noise.
It wasn’t one player they cheered.
Cody Zeller imposed himself, hitting all four field-goal attempts, scoring 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
Al Jefferson, playing with a Band-Aid the size of a paperback book over his right eye, scored 19 points and added 11 rebounds.
As the third quarter ended, Walker, 6-foot-1, blocked a layup by 6-4 John Wall. It might have tied Walker’s career high for blocks. It might have exceeded it.
As the quarter was about to expire after Walker’s block, Gary Neal sprinted down court, pulled up for a long 3 and found Chris-Douglas Roberts beneath the basket and hit him for a last-second layup. And Charlotte was down by 10.
In the fourth quarter, the Bobcats took turns being good and encouraged the Wizards to take turns being bad. Washington turned the ball over five times, Charlotte only once.
Douglas-Roberts was so efficient, so purposeful and so smart, figuring out what was required and doing it. He took nine field-goal attempts and hit seven, scoring 18 points.
Josh McRoberts’ line in the box score suggests a quiet night: five rebounds, two points, one assist, one block. But he kept so many missed Charlotte shots alive, slapping the ball to the perimeter and offering them another chance to score.
Walker didn’t shoot well; he hit six of 22 from the field. But he scored a game-high 21 points and added a game-high 10 assists and shot a game-high 10 free throws.
As hard as he worked, he grew stronger as the game grew longer. Walker looked as if he was returning kickoffs, sprinting from one end of the court to the other, using his blockers and finding room to move.
By now the crowd was frenzied and loud and having a great time.
Charlotte grabbed eight fourth-quarter offensive rebounds. Washington grabbed eight fourth-quarter rebounds.
One play: Walker penetrated and found Jefferson and Jefferson missed a shot he invariably makes. Bradley Beal, 6-5, grabbed the rebound and Walker slapped the ball out of his hands and Jefferson picked it up and he wasn’t going to miss again and he didn’t.
The game was up and down and back and forth and in the gutter and on high.
It was the kind of game where, after it ends, you look at the people next to you and say – well, you don’t have to say anything.