NBA: Bobcats 114, Celtics 106
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó After 19 straight wins and an NBA record 27-2 start, the Boston Celtics have lost that swagger.
The lockdown defense and the poise are missing, too, as teams line up to get a shot at the defending champions.
On Tuesday, it was the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, as Raymond Felton scored 25 points and rookie D.J. Augustin added 11 of his 20 in overtime in a stunning 114-106 win that sent the Celtics to their fifth loss in seven games.
Going from unbeatable to vulnerable in less than two weeks, the Celtics were searching for answers after being left battered, bruised and angry by Larry Brown’s upstart Bobcats.
“We told our team before the season it will be 82 Game 7s. Every time we play it’s a Game 7 for the other team,” coach Doc Rivers said. “On the nights we’re not ready mentally for that, we’re going to have to get lucky and play over our head to win.”
It didn’t happen against Charlotte, and there was plenty of blame to go around.
Paul Pierce scored 28 points, but had a key turnover in overtime. Ray Allen scored 20 points, but shot 7-for-20. Rajon Rondo committed nine turnovers. Kevin Garnett had 14 points and 13 rebounds, but shot only 7-of-18 and was called for traveling in Charlotte’s decisive spurt.
And the NBA’s worst offensive team had its second-best scoring night of the season. Gerald Wallace chipped in with 23 points, but it was Augustin who hit a 3-pointer and two free throws in a 7-0 run that put Charlotte ahead 108-101.
Augustin even talked some trash at the champs’ expense.
“They come in and intimidate you and try to punk you,” Augustin said. “But if you don’t back down from them, they kind of fold.”
That would have been laughable before Boston visited the Lakers on Christmas. But Boston was frustrated again at key times.
After Pierce dribbled the ball out of bounds with Charlotte leading by five in the final minute of OT, Pierce gave Augustin a slight shove, as the turnover ended Boston’s chances in a physical game that saw the Celtics continue their surprising struggles against one of the Eastern Conference’s worst teams.
The Bobcats, despite entering with a 44-72 record over the past two seasons, won in Boston last season. They lost on Allen’s buzzer-beater in another game, and dropped a close contest in the first meeting this season in November.
Tuesday was another thriller, as the Celtics rallied from a 10-point, third-quarter deficit, took 79-72 lead in the fourth quarter, then allowed the Bobcats to get back in it.
Felton’s fadeaway with 38 seconds left in regulation put Charlotte ahead 96-95. After Allen missed a jumper, Felton was fouled and hit only one free throw with 20 seconds left.
Pierce then dribbled off a screen and drilled a turnaround jumper with 3.4 seconds left to tie it. Felton missed a 20-footer at the buzzer to force OT.
But the Bobcats dominated the extra period, getting five straight defensive stops to pick up one of Brown’s biggest wins here.