CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Bobcats finished up the roughest stretch of their schedule with one of their most-impressive performances of the season Wednesday night.
Center Al Jefferson scored 34 points, including 20 in the first half, and the Bobcats routed the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers 109-87.
The win came after the Bobcats lost at San Antonio, at Oklahoma City and at Miami in the previous five days, and it was a clear morale booster. The Pacers began the night with the best record in the NBA.
“The trip, we lost three games in a row, but we played three great teams and we didn’t play bad,” Jefferson said. “So in my opinion, we left that trip with some confidence. We came home and the schedule didn’t get any easier for us, the best team in the league, but we responded well. We came out with energy, we knew it was going to be a physical game, and we knew we had to step up.
“I’m not accepting that we are a team now that guys can look at the schedule and say ‘We’ve got the Bobcats, we can take the night off.’ I think we’ve proved that we can come out and compete. We proved that tonight.”
The Bobcats raced to a 28-8 lead after one quarter, limiting the Pacers to 4-of-20 shooting from the field in the period, and they never trailed the rest of the way.
“It would be a good win anyway, but to go on that trip and play a lot of good basketball and get nothing for it, and then to play like this …” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “Yesterday we took off, and you could tell from the time we walked into shoot-around this morning that we were going to play well. Not that we were going to win, but that we were going to play well. And that’s the strength of our team, our character.”
The win was the Bobcats’ fifth straight at home and moved them to 28-33, still in seventh in the Eastern Conference standings. The Pacers (46-15) lost for the second time in two nights, after a 98-96 defeat against the Golden State Warriors in Indianapolis on Tuesday. Indiana fell into a tie with the idle Oklahoma City Thunder for the NBA’s best record.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel gave all the credit to Jefferson, who produced at least 30 points for the ninth time in 15 games. Jefferson outscored the entire Indiana team 12-8 in the first quarter, and he had 20 at halftime, 29 after three quarters. He finished 16-for-25 from the field, and he even sank a 3-pointer — a bank shot at the shot-clock buzzer.
“Everybody needs to question the Eastern Conference coaches’ voting as to why Al Jefferson wasn’t on the All-Star team,” Vogel said. “He’s one of the best in the game, and he showed that tonight. Give him credit.”
The Bobcats got 19 points and nine assists from guard Kemba Walker. Forward Josh McRoberts and guard Chris Douglas-Roberts scored 12 each, forward Cody Zeller added 11, and guard Gary Neal scored 10.
Guard Evan Turner came off the bench to lead the Pacers with 22 points, and guard George Hill scored 17. Forward Paul George, who entered the game averaging 22.7 points, was held to two points and missed all nine of his field-goal attempts.
The Pacers wound up shooting just 40.8 percent from the field and committing 18 turnovers.
“We struggled to score early,” Vogel said. “You’ve got to give them credit, they’re a great defensive team. We were making extra passes and couldn’t buy a bucket. Charlotte’s a good basketball team. They were rested, and we knew we were going to have to come out and play great, and we didn’t play great.”
Vogel expected the Pacers to be hungry after Tuesday night’s loss to the Warriors, but his team was flat from the start.
“It’s only the second time it’s happened all year,” Vogel said. “Hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”
Charlotte scot 51.2 percent from the floor and gave the ball away just seven times.
NOTES: This was the third and final meeting of the regular season between the teams, although they could wind up facing each other in the first round of the playoffs. The Pacers won both previous games, 99-74 in Charlotte on Nov. 27 and 99-94 in Indianapolis on Dec. 13. The Pacers won 14 of the previous 15 games between the teams before Wednesday. … Bobcats C Justin Hamilton, signed to a 10-day contract on Tuesday, was in uniform for the first time Wednesday night but did not play. The Bobcats were down one big man after shipping F Jeff Adrien to the Milwaukee Bucks in the trade that brought G Luke Ridnour and G Gary Neal to Charlotte. … Bobcats G Gerald Henderson missed his second straight game with a strained right calf, and coach Steve Clifford said he didn’t expect Henderson to return before next week. That means Henderson would miss Friday’s game against Cleveland and Saturday’s game at Memphis. … The Bobcats have not had C Brendan Haywood (stress fracture left foot) this season, and F Jeffery Taylor (ruptured right Achilles) will miss the rest of the season. Clifford said that Haywood would see the doctor again next week, but there is still no timeframe for Haywood’s return. … The Pacers started a three-game road trip that will continue on with games at Houston on Friday and at Dallas on Sunday. They play 14 of their last 22 games on the road.
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