Al Predicts, Delivers Comeback
Al Jefferson sat in the Charlotte locker room Monday night with seven stitches closing a gash above his right eye, but a few inches below the wound, a smile beamed across the face of the Bobcats’ big man.
Big Al took an inadvertent elbow that opened up the cut in the first quarter, but he returned to lead a courageous comeback with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Following Charlotte’s crucial 100-94 victory over the Washington Wizards, No. 25 was happy to be able to joke about his now-dwindling career options.
“I’ll have to call my agent and tell him my modeling career is over,” chuckled Big Al in his post-game interview, referencing the over-sized bandage covering his right eyebrow.
Though his future on the runway and hopes of gracing fashion magazine covers may now be in question, Al proved on Monday that he might have a gift for prognostication. Though the Cats trailed by 16 at the break, No. 25 left the locker room confident. So confident in fact, he made a prediction before the second half began.
“I told everyone at the scorer’s table, ‘Watch this comeback.'” Al said following the game. “They all looked at me like I was crazy.”
In fairness to those at the scorer’s table, their doubt was understandable. They had just watched Al’s team be outscored 40-19 in a listless second quarter that created the 16-point halftime deficit.
Though they played poorly in the second, the home team owned the first quarter. Charlotte started fast and jumped out to a 25-20 lead behind a nine-point, three-rebound opening quarter from Big Al. The fruitful frame included a play where Al brought in his own miss and powered back up through three D.C. defenders. His shot made its way up and in, but his eyebrow caught the raised elbow of Washington’s Trevor Booker, sending No. 25 crashing to the hardwood.
Charlotte trainers patched him up on the bench before later taking him to the locker room, where he was fitted with seven stitches.
While Big Al was off having that work done in the second quarter, Charlotte began to fall apart.
The Cats played one of their worst quarters of basketball this season, letting the Wizards score 40 points on 15-of-20 shooting (including 4-of-5 from downtown) in the second. The poor second undid all the good done in the first and sent Charlotte in at halftime trailing 60-44.
Still, Big Al was confident the Cats would redeem themselves in the second half.
“It was embarrassing the way we played,” he said of the first half. “It felt like we played two different games. Just shows that when we dedicate ourselves and focus on the right things, we’re good.”
In the second half, the Wizards focused their defense on preventing an Al Jefferson takeover, which allowed nimble point guard Kemba Walker to exploit gaps in the defense with his dizzying ball skills.
Walker contributed a game-high 21 points and 10 assists to the win—and the Cats were +16 with their star guard on the floor. Behind the play of Walker and Gerald Henderson, Charlotte cut into Washington’s lead slightly in the third, and trailed by just 10 entering the fourth.
In the fourth, Big Al led the comeback push with eight points and he wasn’t scoring, he drew enough attention from the defense to allow Walker and reserve swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts to break loose and score. The trio combined to score Charlotte’s final 17 points of the game.
The contributions of Douglas-Roberts in particular were a welcome sight for Charlotte fans desperate to see offensive production on a team that often struggles to find scoring beyond that of Big Al and Walker. CDR finished with 18 points in the game on 7-of-9 shooting, including eight points on 3-of-3 in the fourth.
Bobcats with a huge second half (after embarrassing 2nd quarter) to rally past the Wizards in Charlotte. Back within two games of 6-seed.
— Joseph Casciaro (@JosephCasciaro) April 1, 2014
Washington’s lead was seven points with 6:07 remaining when the trio began their run. Walker kicked it off with a 2-for-2 visit to the charity stripe and Douglas-Roberts followed with a drive to the bucket for two, on which he also drew a foul. His subsequent free throw had Charlotte within two 5:10 remaining. Bradley Beal briefly stopped the bleeding for the Wizards with a bucket, but CDR answered with a trey that cut the Cats deficit to just one.
Next it was Big Al’s turn. After pulling down the rebound of a Beal miss on the defensive end, Al got his chance on the other end but also misfired on a short jumper. But No. 25 stuck with it, corralled his own miss and knocked down a short floater to put the Cats ahead 93-92—their first lead since the middle of the second frame—with 3:29 remaining.
Al followed up that big bucket with another, a 17-foot jumper to stretch the lead to three. Walker then showed off his speed, slashing to the basket for a smooth lay-in that would prove to be the dagger, sending Charlotte ahead 97-92. Walker went on to make 3-of-4 free throws in the final 30 seconds to lock up the win.
For the Cats, the victory brought their season record against Washington to 2-1, but more importantly, it kept them within two games of the Wizards for the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. The two teams will play once more this season on April 9. After the gutsy comeback, Al was ecstatic and summed up the hopes of fans in the Queen City.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said, “But we can be one of the elite teams in the East.”
Fans took to Twitter to share in his enthusiasm:
This game shows why Al Jefferson deserves more MVP credit. Goes to the locker room gets 7 stitches then leads Cats past Wizards @bobcats
— Tony Costa (@tongiocos) April 1, 2014
Al Jefferson is prob the most underrated big man in the league right now #basketball
— Mr Hyde ☻ (@0gbeni) April 1, 2014
— Creighton Hayes (@creighton_hayes) April 1, 2014
The Bobcats (36-38) head to the City of Brotherly Love to take on the Philadelphia 76ers (16-58) Wednesday night.
The two squads have split two meetings thus far this season. The Cats took Round 1 in the Queen City with a 105-88 win Dec. 6. Big Al notched a 14-point 12-rebound double-double in the victory. He had another strong performance in Round 2, turning in 24 points and eight boards, but the Cats fell 95-92 in Philly.
Tip-off from the Wells Fargo Center is scheduled for 7 p.m. with coverage available on SportSouth or via NBA League Pass.