CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The agony is over for the Charlotte Bobcats.
Kemba Walker scored a career-high 30 points in Mike Dunlap’s coaching debut and the Bobcats snapped a 23-game losing streak with a 90-89 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday night.
The Bobcats lost their final 23 games last season to finish 7-59, the worst winning percentage (.106) in NBA history prompting owner Michael Jordan to proclaim the franchise had “hit rock bottom.”
But the Bobcats, playing with a newfound aggressiveness on defense under Dunlap – they forced 19 turnovers – started this season strong against a Pacers team that won 19 of 33 road games last season.
Walker was the catalyst all game, hitting 9 of his first 13 shots – most of those coming on drives to the lane where the 6-foot-1 point guard somehow managed to get his shots above much taller defenders with soft kisses off the glass.
Walker also drew contact along the way, making 9 of 10 free throws, an area where the Pacers struggled all game, shooting just 59 percent.
Gerald Henderson added 18 points for the Bobcats and Ramon Sessions chipped in 11 points, including a big 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter.
It was a strange finish as the teams combined to score just two points in the game’s final 3:27. Indiana had several chances but turnovers and missed shots proved to be their undoing.
D.J. Augustin, who left the Bobcats this offseason, tried to bury his old team with a jumper from the wing as time expired but it fell short.
Tyler Hansbrough and Lance Stephenson led the Pacers with 15 points each.
The Bobcats were the worst shooting team in the league last season, but came out strong building a 12-3 lead. That was short-lived as they quickly cooled off going more than 6 minutes without a point. The Pacers grabbed the lead behind 12 hard-fought points by Hansbrough and took a 43-39 halftime lead
Walker scored eight quick points to start the second half, giving the Bobcats a lead they would never relinquish.
Indiana played without forward Danny Granger, the team’s leading scorer the past five seasons, who continues to be sidelined indefinitely with soreness in his left knee. Before the game, coach Frank Vogel said they are still awaiting the medical results of a second opinion on his knee.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, struggled offensively for the Bobcats going 1 for 7 from the field and he didn’t play much down the stretch.
However, he played hard with seven rebounds and was impressive at times on defense.
In the second quarter Kidd-Gilchrist skied to block a shot by Roy Hibbert in the lane, igniting a fastbreak layup and three-point play on the other end by Walker.
NOTES: Pacers F Sam Young only played 1 minute before leaving with a right shoulder injury. He was hurt when he got Henderson in the air with a pump fake and Henderson’s leg landed on his shoulder on the way down. ... Former professional wrestler Ric “The Nature Boy” Flair attended the game.