The Charlotte Bobcats did everything right on Saturday afternoon. They frustrated Dwight Howard on both ends of the floor, baiting him into silly fouls and rendering him ineffective on the offensive end for most of the time he was in. They held the Magic to 9-30 shooting from beyond the arc. They turned defense into offense effectively and outscored the Magic 13-4 on the fast break. They even started attacking the paint in the half-court, and actually had a 38-28 advantage in points in the paint.
So how did Charlotte fail to get their first win of the series? In the end, the game came down to Charlotte’s lack of offensive firepower and Orlando’s abundance of Jameer Nelson. As Vince Carter continued to struggle from the field and Dwight Howard was handcuffed by foul trouble all game, Nelson absolutely put the Magic on his back and got them a 3-0 series lead. Just how important was Nelson in game 3? Take a look at the numbers:
Jameer Nelson: 32 points, 12-21 shooting, 5-9 from 3, 3 assists, 4 steals, 0 turnovers
Rest of team: 58 points, 19-49 shooting, 4-21 from 3, 11 assists, 3 steals, 19 turnovers
Just to remind you, Orlando made it to the finals last year without this guy. Crazy.
In the first quarter, the Bobcats finally started getting the ball to the basket against Howard in the half-court. 22 of the Bobcats’ 27 points in the first quarter came on free throws or shots in the paint. They moved the ball, they attacked of the dribble, they didn’t let Howard set up, they pushed off of turnovers, and they attacked the offensive glass. It was the type of first quarter the Bobcats had been looking for all series.
While the Bobcats executed, Jameer Nelson became a house of fire. He scored 19 points in the quarter, and there was no way of stopping him. He drained threes. He went all the way to the basket when they closed him out. He’d pull up and drain a mid-range jumper if the defense did manage to react properly. He finished the quarter with a four-point play with a second left. It was a virtuoso performance. Thanks to Jameer’s start to the game, Orlando was able to survive a 12-point second quarter and go into halftime trailing by only four points.
After a back-and-forth second half, the door was open for Charlotte when Howard, who’d been effective throughout the fourth quarter, fouled out with the Bobcats up one and three and a half minutes to play. The Bobcats didn’t have enough shooting to get over the hump, and Boris Diaw and Larry Hughes came up short on crucial three-point attempts. With the Bobcats down one and 31 seconds to go, Larry Hughes called timeout and set Stephen Jackson up with a three-point look. He missed it. After that, the Magic made enough free throws to hold on, and the Bobcats now find themselves in a 3-0 hole.
Charlotte had four players score in double figures on Saturday. Two of those four players shot 33% from the field, Raymond Felton went 5-14, and only Larry Hughes scored 10 or more points while making over half his shots. When Larry Hughes is your most efficient offensive option in a critical playoff game, upgrades are necessary. Charlotte has shown that they can frustrate any team in the league and make any game competitive, especially when they’re at home. Now they just need to find some players that will allow them to put points on the board consistently.
If you want to know what Nelson thought about his big day, here you go: