What a week it’s been in Bobcatlandia. On Tuesday the Bobcats solved the Riddle of the Cousins with an out-of-the-box maneuver known as double-teaming. After Sacramento Kings C DeMarcus Cousins went 6-for-8 in the first half and left Al Jefferson utterly ensorcelled, coach Clifford must have gone rogue and decided that a double-team on one of the league’s most offensively dominant big men was just crazy enough to work (I actually envision him looking in the mirror at halftime and smiling back at himself twistedly as he comes up with the epiphany, a la Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate). Beginning in the third quarter, anytime the ball went to DMC down low, reinforcements—usually in the bearded forms of Josh McRoberts and Jeff Taylor—attached themselves to him like a dogs to a leg. The gamble paid off: Cousins had just two field goals the rest of the game to go with four turnovers (but sadly, no temper tantrums, which to attendees must have felt like going to a Heat game and not getting to see a LeBron dunk). Not only did the Bobcats prevail against a team that had just taken out the Rockets, we also got the fun of watching future James Bond villain Quincy Acy randomly assault Cody Zeller, something many frustrated fans have been fantasizing about all season.
That mildly impressive Bobcats win was topped on Wednesday night by an even more mildly impressive win against Toronto. This would have been a classic Bobcats’ steal of a win except for the fact that there has never been such a thing. In fact, I wouldn’t trust the Bobcats to steal a stale corn dog from a Kwik-E-Mart on Christmas Eve, and yet they overcame a 16-point deficit with about 7:22 left in the 3rd quarter. And a Kyle Lowry 3-pointer that tied it up at the end of regulation. And 4 straight missed free throws at the end of overtime. And a terrible Gerald Henderson foul on DeMar DeRozan at the end-end of overtime. Seriously, the final few minutes of this game were totally excruciating; I felt like Jeremy Davies watching Adam Goldberg getting slowly stabbed in Saving Private Ryan. Luckily, Kemba Walker somehow found himself freer than Nelson Mandela at the baseline on the ensuing inbound pass and nailed an ultra-super-duper clutch buzzer-beater to win it. See it here and enjoy the Bobcats morphing from Harry and Marv to Ocean’s 11.
The transformation was completed on Friday night when the Bobcats pulled off their most improbable victory of all, a 116-106 stunner in Detroit. This one was like watching a horror movie in reverse: it started with the teenagers being tortured to death and ended with them as happy-go-lucky kids looking for a cheap hostel in Europe. I really cannot stress how bleak this game looked by halftime, when the Bobcats trailed by 15 and both Andre Drummond and Brandon Jennings were making more buckets than Rubbermaid. Really, the deluge of Bobcat dysfunction continued well into the fourth quarter, when out of nowhere, Al Jefferson yanked off his underpants; in other words, the dude went commando. With 5:03 left and the Bobcats trailing by 5, Big Al hit a turnaround post-up over Drummond. He followed up it up with a transition layup-and-one, which he missed, but Anthony Tolliver grabbed the rebound, leading to…another Jefferson layup! This time he bullied Drummond like Jonathan Martin to create an easy post-up, and suddenly the Bobcats were…in the lead!? There was a brief exchange of fire on both sides for the next 90 seconds, but then AJeff went on a personal 7-1 run, culminating in a totally B-A-N-A-N-A-S 20-foot jumper from the baseline that turned this nightmare into a laugher.
That shot was crazier than CeeLo because it was a 20-footer from the left side of the hoop, which is Jefferson’s ultimate weak spot. If you look at his shot chart, you’ll see that not only is Jefferson terrible from anywhere on the left side between 8-20 feet (31%), he also can’t seem to stop himself from shooting from there; that dead zone represents 26% of all his shots. Imagine Star Wars ending with the Death Star shooting itself in its weak spot repeatedly and you get an idea of how frustrating it is to see Big Al on offense sometimes. And that’s the thing: I guess you give Jefferson the Game MVP award, except that he took 24 shots to get 24 points and only had the third-best +/- of the starters.
Really, we should give Jefferson the Stephen Jackson Award, because the Bobcats are going to live or die based on his performance, which is how it used to be with Captain Jack, who was prolifically the good, bad, and ugly all rolled into one. Jefferson’s usage rate (25.6%) only narrowly trails that of Walker and Ramon Sessions. And thanks to player tracking, we can see that among guys with at least 30 MPG, Jefferson averages the 10th fewest passes per game. He’s a black hole through and through, and on Friday he eventually pulled the team gravitationally to a victory. But he also dug them that black hole in the first place. Narrowly the Bobcats are a net positive with Jefferson on the court (+0.4 points/100 possessions), which is why we’re seeing all these close games. And just when you want to grab him by his 30-pound head for clanking another out-of-rhythm 12-footer from the left side, he either a) comes back with an awesomely nimble up-and-under, or b) he gets subbed out for Bismack Biyombo, and the offense screeches to a 90.9 points/100 possessions halt like a 45 rpm record getting unplugged. For that we must be grateful for Jefferson during this holiday season, even while we curse him to the point that our neighbors assume we’re stringing holiday lights.
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