A horrendous third quarter, in which the Bobcats were outscored 34-16, spoiled Al Jefferson and Coach Steve Clifford’s return to game-action, as the Hawks downed the Cats 103-94 in Charlotte.
Monday’s game proved yet again that winning in the NBA requires four consistent quarters in terms of effort and execution.
The third quarter was the difference in the contest, and the stats say it all. The Cats, who controlled the ball well in the first half, succumbed to a stingier defense in the third quarter, turning the ball over six times. Atlanta took advantage of these opportunities, shooting 72 percent from the field for the quarter with five three-pointers. What was an eight point Cats lead at the start of the period was a 10-point deficit at its end – a deficit that proved too difficult to overcome.
The Cats got off to a strong start with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist aggressively taking control early. While making only one-of-four jump shots, he paced his team with all of his 16 points in the first half – the key to the Cats’ 54-46 lead heading into the intermission.
But MKG, along with his teammates, disappeared in the third quarter, leaving the door open for a Hawks’ rally. Al Horford led the charge with 13 points in the quarter.
The Cats wouldn’t recover, in spite of Jefferson’s stronger showing in the second half, when he tallied all ten of his points. Jefferson also found teammates slashing to the basket, as the Hawks respected his low-post game with double-teams. Clifford elected to ease his star free agent acquisition back into the fold. Jefferson only played 28 minutes, as big men Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo still saw significant playing time with 17 minutes apiece.
Josh McRoberts led the Cats with 19 points, six rebounds and seven assists, while Horford paced the Hawks with 24 points.
All five of the Cats starters finished in double figures, but the team only shot 40.7 percent from the field. When the Cats could have used a lift offensively, Ben Gordon remained on the bench, where he has spent most of this young season.
The Cats fell to 3-4 and will try to right the ship Wednesday night in Boston against the surging Celtics, who have won four straight.
If anything, last night’s loss teaches another lesson to a young team trying to learn how to win on a consistent basis: four quarters of balanced play is essential.