Hornets playoffs: Part 9 – First-year head coach, offseason free agent acquisition lead to playoffs in 2014

This is the ninth in a series on Charlotte’s previous NBA playoff seasons. Here’s a look at other stories in the 10-part series:
Part 1 – The Hive Is Alive as the Hornets win their first postseason series in 1993. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-1-the-hive-is-alive-as-the-hornets-win-their-first-postseason-series-in-1993/
Part 2 – Homecourt no advantage against Michael Jordan’s late-season return in 1995. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-2-homecourt-no-advantage-against-michael-jordans-late-season-return-in-1995/
Part 3 – Hard Ball runs into a motivated former Charlotte All-Star in 1997. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-3-hard-ball-runs-into-a-motivated-former-charlotte-all-star-in-1997/
Part 4 – Hornets dispatch Hawks, hand “Last Dance” Bulls their first playoff loss in 1998. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-4-hornets-dispatch-hawks-hand-last-dance-bulls-their-first-playoff-loss-in-1998/
Part 5 – Tragedy mars season, then Iverson too much to overcome in 2000 playoffs. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-5-tragedy-mars-season-then-iverson-too-much-to-overcome-in-2000-playoffs/
Part 6 – Headband fever sparks longest playoff run in season of off-court turmoil in 2001. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-6-headband-fever-sparks-longest-playoff-run-in-season-of-off-court-turmoil-in-2001/
Part 7 – Lame duck Hornets again advance to conference semifinals in 2002. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-7-lame-duck-hornets-again-advance-to-conference-semifinals-in-2002/
Part 8 – Early season trade sparks expansion franchise into playoffs in 2010. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-8-early-season-trade-sparks-expansion-franchise-into-playoffs-in-2010/
Part 10 – Franchise snaps long postseason losing streak with 2016 postseason play

By Richard Walker

Four years earlier, Steve Clifford had helped end the Charlotte Bobcats’ first playoff appearance as an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic.

Al Jefferson had an All-NBA season in 2014 after signing a free agent contract in the summer of 2013. [hornets.com photo]
In the 2013-14 season, Clifford coached the last Charlotte team named “Bobcats” to its second playoff berth behind one of the best free agent signings in the city’s professional basketball history.

Clifford was hired during one of the busiest and most effectives offseasons in team history.

On May 21, 2013, owner Michael Jordan formally applied to the NBA for the team to get the name “Hornets” back after New Orleans had announced it was switching from “Hornets” to “Pelicans.”

On May 29, 2013, Clifford was hired as head coach.

On July 10, 2013, the team signed Al Jefferson to a three-year, $40.5 million free agent contract.

And on July 18, 2013, the NBA unanimously approved the name change that would become effective at the start of the 2014-15 season.

Clifford, Jefferson and many others combined their efforts to make the final “Bobcats” season a memorable one.

Charlotte gradually played better and better throughout the season; The Bobcats went 8-9 in November, 6-9 in December and 7-9 in January before hitting their stride in the final three months.

Charlotte went 6-4 in February, 9-7 in March as Jefferson won NBA Player of the Month honors and 7-1 in April as Jefferson again won Player of the Month honors and Clifford was named NBA Coach of the Month.

In addition to Jefferson, Clifford got solid contributions from guards Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Gary Neal and Ramon Sessions, forwards Josh McRoberts and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and rookie center Cody Zeller.

Neal was a trade deadline acquisition from Milwaukee in February.

The Bobcats finished with a 43-39 overall record and No. 7 Eastern Conference seed that landed them opposite the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.

If the matchup wasn’t tough enough for Charlotte, an injured left foot to Jefferson in the first quarter of the opening game virtually ended whatever hope the franchise had for a playoff upset.

After suffering a painful plantar fasciitis injury, Jefferson left the arena after a 99-88 Game 1 loss in a walking boot and would play two more games in the playoffs before being shut down for the season.

Even without Jefferson at full strength, Charlotte battled LeBron James, Dwyane Wade the Heat closely throughout the series.

Four after being an assistant coach that helped put the Charlotte Bobcats out of the playoffs in 2010 with the Orlando Magic, Clifford took the last “Bobcats” team to the postseason in 2014. [hornets.com photo]
Walker scored 20 points in the playoff opener. Jefferson had 18 points and 13 rebounds and Kidd-Gilchrist 22 points in a 101-97 loss in Game 2. And with a Charlotte Spectum Center-record 19,633 in attendance for Game 3, Jefferson had 20 points in a 98-85 loss.

With Jefferson on the bench in street clothes, Walker had 29 points, five rebounds and five assists in a 109-98 loss in Game 4 in front of 19,092 fans in Charlotte.

The 2014 Bobcats
Record: 43-39 (0-4 in playoffs)
Head coach: Steve Clifford
Top scorers: Al Jefferson 21.8, Kemba Walker 17.7, Gerald Henderson 14.0, Gary Neal 11.2, Ramon Sessions 10.5, Josh McRoberts 8.5
Top rebounders: Jefferson 10.8, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 5.2, McRoberts 4.8, Bismack Biyombo 4.8
Notes: Jefferson was named third team All-NBA in the postseason, the only time he was so honored in his career. Neal and Chris Douglas-Roberts filled in for 2013 second round draft pick Jeffrey Taylor after he tore his Achilles on Dec. 21.