Al Jefferson showcased why the Bobcats committed $41 million to him this past offseason, putting up 22 points on 8 for 17 shooting, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocks in an 89-83 victory against the Celtics in Boston.
In his second game back from an ankle injury, Jefferson not only played five more minutes – totaling 33 – but also appeared more comfortable on the offensive end, where he will be the Cats primary low-post scoring option. He put his full skill set on display: fantastic pivot footwork, a mid-range jump shot, and an instinctual understanding of whom to dish the ball to when the Celtics double-teamed him.
Unlike their loss to the Hawks, where the Cats squandered a first half lead with terrible play in the third quarter, they never lost control after taking a 27-21 lead at the end of the first. In spite of the Celtics’ runs on the back of Jordan Crawford, who put up 16 points and six assists, Charlotte relied on a stingy defense and 87 percent shooting from the charity stripe to maintain its lead.
The Bobcats half-court offense flowed well with Big Al anchoring an inside-out approach, which was fortunate, since the team only mustered eight fast break points.
Anthony Tolliver, another free agent acquisition, logged the starting job at power forward; Josh McRoberts was absent from the game for personal reasons. Tolliver took advantage of his opportunity hitting three for six shots from three-point range for an 11-point night. Gerald Henderson, Ramon Sessions and Jeff Taylor all scored in double-digits, as well.
Going through the typical rookie adjustments to the size and speed of the NBA game, rookie selection Cody Zeller had one of his stronger showings, in spite of only shooting two-for-seven from the field. He grabbed nine boards, had two steals and a block in the winning effort.
Ben Gordon once again did not play, as he sat at the end of the bench with a towel draped over his head for the entirety of the game. Propping his head on his elbow, rarely showing any signs of life with ebb and flow of the game, reporters and fans must be wondering if Gordon is already in Coach Steve Clifford’s dog house.
Last year, the scorer had a well-publicized spat with one-and-done Coach Mike Dunlap. Based on player interviews and surveys following last season, it appears many players were unreceptive to Dunlap’s methods. Yet, if Gordon can’t coexist with his second coach in as many years, he will have a trouble finding a suitor in free agency next year.
In the meantime, Gordon could provide a much-needed spark off the bench on offense, but he needs an opportunity to do so. If the Cats believe he’s a lost cause, they might use him and his expiring contract as trade bait for a team looking to dump salary.
The Cats will look to get a game over .500 at Cleveland on Friday before returning home Saturday against the Heat.