The Charlotte Bobcats struggled to make free throws in a Saturday loss to Sacramento.
On Monday, giving them up was what cost the ‘Cats a chance at another victory.
The Houston Rockets made a season-high 32 free throws to come away with a 100-94 win against the Bobcats in a rare Monday matinee game at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“It was the difference in the game — their free throws versus ours,” said Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap. “Kemba (Walker) and (Ramon) Sessions got going, but we needed that third scorer. It’s not an individual thing with our team. It’s just finding who that third scorer is. Whether it’s going to the rim and scoring off the block or hitting threes or middle jumpers, there’s a number of ways and a number of different guys that have done that for us in the fourth, and we just didn’t have it tonight.”
Houston’s James Harden made 19 of those free throws — part of his team-high 29 points.
Charlotte (10-31) led nearly the entire game until a dunk by Harden at the 7:57 mark of the fourth quarter pushed the Rockets on top, 84-83.
Harden scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, lifting the Rockets (22-21) late.
“I’ve got the green light every game,” Harden said of his scoring. “It’s just a matter of me making shots and making plays for my teammates. These last few games, I’ve been struggling, especially with my shot. Guys stepped up and hit some big shots, some big threes. Marcus (Morris), Carlos (Delfino) and those guys stepped up all night.”
Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo was the only achilles’ heel all game for Harden.
Biyombo tallied a career-high seven blocked shots — five of those on Harden.
“When Harden broke free, there were a number of points that were left at the rim, so to speak, that Harden couldn’t finish on because of (Biyombo),” Dunlap said. “That was part of our defensive strategy, for our fives to protect the rim, and (Biyombo) broke through and did his job."
Charlotte’s second-year guard Kemba Walker continued to keep the Bobcats ahead in Monday’s game with a career-high 35-point performance.
Walker’s previous career high for points was 32 this season against the Orlando Magic on Dec. 15, 2012.
“We’re trying our hardest to win these games, but you know it’s just not working out for us right now,” Walker said. “We still have so much basketball left, so hopefully things are going to start looking up for us, and I think they will.”
Dunlap still believes that Walker is a work in progress.
“The development of Kemba continues,” he said. “We targeted him early in the season and everything is double what it was last year. He’s a sophomore in the league. His promise as a future star in this league is high, and as he matures and takes responsibility with his voice for our entire team, he’s going to be an All-Star. I said that from the beginning and, statistically, he’s showing that.”
However, the Bobcats shot just 21.1 percent from the field as a team in the fourth quarter. All 13 of their points in the fourth quarter came from Walker (seven points) and Ramon Sessions (six).
Sessions added 19 points off of the bench for Charlotte.
Despite the loss, the Bobcats showed improvement from the free throw line.
A day after making 24-of-36 free throw attempts against Sacramento, Charlotte improved by making 20 of its 24 free chances on Monday.
Houston’s win snaps a season-long seven-game losing streak, while Charlotte drops its second-straight contest.
“We’re in a funk right now, and we have to work our way out of it,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “We’ve got a chance to practice tomorrow and a chance to tighten up some stuff. We’ve got to improve, and we will.”
The Bobcats continue their long four-game homestand with a 7 p.m. contest Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks.
Charlotte is again at home Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves — also at 7 p.m.
As for Monday’s game, Walker is disappointed in the result.
“We played hard,” he said. “We fought through the whole game. Those guys just made big plays, and we just came up short.”