CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Bobcats have been terrible on the second night of back-to-backs much of the season, but that all changed this week.
The Bobcats completed a sweep of four games in five nights with a 92-89 victory over the previously red-hot Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night in what goes down as their first four-game winning streak since 2011.
On a night that center Al Jefferson was held to a season-low six points, guard Kemba Walker picked up the slack with 31 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and the Bobcats’ reserves played a key role in a 15-1 run early in the fourth quarter.
Walker ultimately sealed the win with four free throws in the final 24.4 seconds, and Memphis guard Mike Conley missed two potentially tying 3-point attempts in the final five seconds.
“We knew that we’ve been struggling as a team on back-to-backs and we wanted to put our focus on that,” Walker said. “We wanted to continue our momentum, and that’s what we did. The coaching staff did a great job of preparing us, getting us ready to play these games, and we just go out there and try to execute and play as hard as possible and do the smart things to win basketball games. And that’s what we’ve done.”
The Bobcats swept Detroit in a home-and-home back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then followed up a win over New Orleans on Friday with this victory. They came into Saturday night’s game 4-12 on the second night of back-to-backs, and had lost eight straight at one point.
“This should give us confidence,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “It’s hard to win an NBA game. And to win four in a row against good teams to play this well tonight in a game that was that hard-fought, you have to feel good about it.”
The Bobcats are now 27-30 and seventh and rising in the Eastern Conference standings.
Even more encouraging is the fact that the Bobcats were able to beat a quality opponent without relying on Jefferson, who had scored 30 or more in seven of his previous 11 games, including 33 against New Orleans on Friday.
Jefferson finished just 2 of 13 from the field, and was content late to set screens for Walker and others.
Walker scored 11 of his 31 in the fourth quarter. Forward Josh McRoberts had 12 points and forward Anthony Tolliver had nine — all in a 15-1 spurt that allowed the Bobcats to pull out to a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter before the Grizzlies answered with a 15-2 run of their own.
“It just shows that we have guys that can step up,” Walker said. “Tonight I scored a lot of points, but the guy who gave us a huge push was Josh. He made a lot of great plays that won’t show up in the stat sheet. That’s what we have to do when Al’s not playing well.”
The Grizzlies, who had won 16 of their previous 20, had a four-game winning streak snapped. They are now 31-24.
Conley led the Grizzlies with 16 points, but was just 0-for-5 from 3-point range including the two misses in the closing seconds.
Center Marc Gasol scored 15 points in addition to doing yeoman’s defensive work on Jefferson, and forward Zach Randolph had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger was upset about his team’s 15 turnovers, and an 11-0 Charlotte run to open the third quarter.
“We threw the ball all over the gym tonight and they had more energy than we did,” he said. “In the first seven possessions of the second half we had three turnovers and three baskets that barely hit the rim. They got flowing and we were playing catch-up after that. It wasn’t about what happened at the end, it’s about not coming out in the second half with a six-point lead.
“But I thought they (Charlotte) played really hard. I thought they took care of the basketball. They are well-coached and they protected the lane. They are a good team.”
NOTES: The NBA formally approved the Bobcats’ acquisition of G Gary Neal and G Luke Ridnour from Milwaukee, but neither was in uniform Saturday night. They’ll make their Bobcats debuts next Friday at San Antonio. … Bobcats coach Steve Clifford was initially leery of the upcoming five-day break in the schedule, but now he loves it because it’ll give Neal and Ridnour several practices to learn the system. … Bobcats G Ben Gordon played 20 minutes and was 1 for 7 from the field, on a day when reports surfaced that the team is looking to buy out his contract. … The Bobcats have not had C Brendan Haywood (stress fracture left foot) any this season, and have lost F Jeffery Taylor (ruptured right Achilles) for the rest of the season. Clifford said that Haywood will see the doctor again in two weeks, but there is still no time frame for his return. … Bobcats F Chris Douglas-Roberts was sporting six stitches under his eye after being elbowed in the Bobcats’ win over New Orleans. … The Grizzlies were without G Quincy Pondexter (stress fracture, right foot), but got G Tony Allen back on Friday against the Clippers. … The Grizzlies will return home to face the Lakers on Wednesday.
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