The Charlotte Bobcats came into Tuesday night's game at the Los Angeles Lakers riding an 11-game losing streak. Nevertheless, they had reasons to be optimistic. While the Bobcats have never been one of the NBA's best squads by any stretch of the imagination, they've performed quite well against the big-market Lakers. Before L.A. won the last two meetings between the squads, Charlotte had taken eight of the previous 10 meetings. Factor in the Lakers' well-publicized poor performance this season, and the Bobcats had reason to feel like they could come in and turn their luck around.
Up until the final possession, that outcome looked very possible. The game was tight throughout, with the Bobcats looking like the more aggressive team just as often, if not more often than, the Lakers. No play exhibited their ability more than the one above, a very, very impressive dunk/throw by guard Gerald Henderson over Dwight Howard four minutes into the fourth quarter. Seconds after the possession broke down, Henderson took a pass from Bismack Biyombo underneath the basket and immediately elevated high over Howard. He announced that the Bobcats would not go down easily.
Unfortunately for them, it was not their night. After the jump, check out the extremely bizarre final play of the game, which saw Henderson go from highlight-reel hero to potential scapegoat.
With the Lakers up 101-100 and the shot clocked turned off, the Bobcats ran a play that switched Kobe Bryant onto point guard Kemba Walker with a screen. In this situation, the player with the ball will typically hold until roughly six seconds are on the clock, giving his team a chance to grab an offensive rebound for a quick putback attempt. But Walker drove with 10 seconds left, presumably to catch the defense off guard. Three Lakers collapsed to the paint, but Walker did not kick out for a jumper. The shot was blocked by Howard, and it looked like a botched opportunity.
Luckily for Charlotte, the ball bounced to Henderson, who found himself with a very open lane on the left side of the basket. He got one of the easiest shots an NBA player will ever get, but he blew the opportunity as the ball rolled around and off the rim.
In most cases, that would be the end of the game. Yet, because Walker started so early, the Bobcats had several more shots. Sweet-shooting big man Byron Mullens tipped the rebound back to himself for a short jumper that, again, was not a bad shot given the circumstances. Bizarrely, his shot attempt went backward even though it did not appear to be blocked by the challenging Bryant. Presumably the Lakers got help from a ghost, just like in the Oscar-winning film "The 6th Man." [Ed. note: This movie has never won any awards.]
Somehow, the Bobcats got another shot attempt, although there was little chance that Ben Gordon's desperation three would make its way in. The game ended and the Lakers won by a point, though not without a major struggle. If you're scoring at home, the final possession included four shots in all, three of which were decent, two of which were good, and one of which registered as easy.
For years, a group of basketball observers, including me, have sought to understand how the Bobcats could play the Lakers so well when objective analysis suggests an uneven matchup. In our less practical moments, we've been apt to argue that the Bobcats held some kind of supernatural advantage in these games. At times, it's been that inexplicable.
Objectively, the result of this particular game hinged on one possession and says little about either team's capacity to win against the other. However, if the occult ever factored into this matchup, then this final possession surely reversed the curse.
For his sake, I just hope Byron Mullens isn't dealing with a poltergeist. A 12-game losing streak is enough.
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