BIG AL’S TOP 5 GAMES OF 2013-14: NO. 2

Second on the Big Al Top 5 is a game where No. 25 did a little bit of everything—and the Charlotte Bobcats needed every little bit to pick up a win that set them on course for the postseason.

January 20, 2014: Almighty Al Guides Cats in Nail-biter

After a slow start to the 2013-14 campaign, the Charlotte Bobcats had a record of 17-25 just past the midway point of the season, when the Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors came to town on January 20.

The string of inconsistency looked destined to continue, particularly with star point guard Kemba Walker out of commission with a sprained ankle after playing in his previous 190 consecutive games. But with the star guard out, Al Jefferson, the Bobcats’ leader down low, stepped up with a historic performance to spark a vital 100-95 victory—one that would establish the Cats as a legitimate playoff contender.

No. 25 missed nine of the team’s first 12 games and was working his way through a relatively slow start to the season. But just as the Raptors came to town, the big man from Mississippi was starting to feel healthy and hit his stride on the inside.

Big Al’s output against Toronto was one of the most universally dominant performances of any NBA player this season. He tallied 22 points, 19 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks in Charlotte’s key win.

To put that into perspective, since the 2000 season, there have been only eight instances of an NBA player finishing a game with at least 22 points, 19 rebounds, seven assists, and two blocks. Those eight other performances belong to five other players, all household names: Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Chris Webber, and Dirk Nowitzki.

Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Bobcats

Al’s performance was the first time it had been done in over six years, but he didn’t even need the entire game to make history. At the end of the first 12 minutes, Big Al already had 10 points and 10 boards, making him the first player in franchise history to record a double-double in the first frame.

Put simply, Al was perfection on the floor and his performance left fans and media members alike slack-jawed.

In their postgame recap Queens City Hoops gave Al an A+ for the game saying:

What else can Al Jefferson do for this team? With Walker sidelined, it is going to be largely up to Jefferson to pick up the slack, and that’s exactly what he did Monday afternoon against the Raptors. With 22 points, 19 boards, and 7 assists, Jefferson had a huge game and made plays on both ends, including a couple key defensive plays down the stretch, to seal the game for the ‘Cats.

Charlotte needed every ounce of his brilliance to defeat Toronto. Al helped the Cats get off to a blistering start—one that ended up as the driving force behind the win. His 10 and 10 in the first came along with two dimes and was bolstered by nine points from guard Ramon Sessions, who notched a team-high 23 points while filling Walker’s spot in the starting lineup. Along with their offensive outburst, the Bobcats held Toronto to just 25 percent shooting from the field to open up a 26-11 lead at the end of the first.

The Raptors picked up their offensive pace in the second as All-Star DeMar DeRozan and reserve guard Greivis Vasquez heated up, combining for 14 points. However, the home team responded. Jannero Pargo turned in eight points off the bench for Charlotte off 3-of-3 shooting, and the squad knocked down 10-of-11 free-throw attempts to add four points to their lead and enter the break ahead 55-36.

Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Bobcats

That massive lead continued to balloon after halftime. Al tacked on four more points, four boards and two dimes, while Sessions stayed hot as well. He contributed six points, and it was his free throw at the 4:37 mark that made Charlotte’s advantage a 30 spot: 71-41. Unfortunately, that is when the Cats grew just a little too overconfident.

“When you get up a 30-point lead, no matter what you tell yourselves, you’re going to relax a little,” Al said. “But we stopped getting back on defense.”

Meanwhile, Toronto went into panic mode and sliced the lead down to just 18 going into the final frame behind a pair of threes from Steve Novak.

In the fourth, the frantic run continued for the Raptors. By the seven-minute mark, Charlotte’s lead was down to 10. Then a DeRozan drive made it three with just 2:33 to go. DeRozan had a great performance late, dropping a game-high 25 points. It was his partner in crime, guard Kyle Lowry, who finished with 21 points and recorded the bucket that put the game within one point.

Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Bobcats

Lowry missed the free-throw that would’ve tied the contest, and Big Al pulled down his 19th and final key board with a shade under 25 seconds to go. From there, the home team regained its composure and iced the nerve-wracking victory at the line. When he and his team were finally able to put a strike in the win column, Al was glad to be able to joke about the narrow victory.

“Of course we had to make it a game,” Big Al said with a grin. “We couldn’t enjoy an easy win, right? The important thing is we came out of it with a win.”

Head coach Steve Clifford also commented after the game that it was a good win, all things considered. However, he still had some focus on finding Al help offensively, particularly with the electric Walker out of the lineup.

“Other guys have to score,” Clifford said of teams doubling Big Al. “It’s the issue with that (center) position – it’s dependent. It’s not like getting LeBron (James) the ball at the top of the key.”

Like his coach, Al looked at the near-collapse against a playoff-caliber foe as a learning experience. If the Cats wanted their postseason dreams to come true, they would have to keep their focus for a full 48 minutes and develop their killer instinct.

“Anytime you get up 30 points, you get comfortable,” Al said. “We’ve just got to stay focused all 48 minutes. We’re not one of them teams that can get away with that, especially without Kemba.”

Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Bobcats

As the season wore on, Al turned in several remarkable performances not dissimilar to this one. Additionally, his team was able to look back and draw from the lesson he described above. Starting with this triumph over Toronto, the Cats reversed their record from the first half of the season, winning 26 of their final 40 games to earn just the second playoff berth in franchise history.

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