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All would vote this outing their worst

Email|Print| Text size + By Peter May
Globe Staff / January 10, 2008

Well, I guess we know what happened to the guys who ran the numbers for Barack Obama in New Hampshire. They went out and set the pointspread for the Celtics-Bobcats game.

And you know what? They were right. The Celtics deserved to be 13-point favorites, even though, as Gerald Wallace said after last night's stunner, "We should be 2-0 against them."

As we know, once in a while strange things happen in politics and sports, and last night, 24 hours after Obama saw a 13-point poll lead disappear in the Granite State, the Celtics suffered the same fate against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats at TD Banknorth Garden. In what certainly qualifies as a shocker, Charlotte took it to the Celtics and came away with a 95-83 victory.

Who saw this one coming? Charlotte had played the night before and had yet to win a game on the second night of a back-to-back all season. The Celtics hadn't played since last Saturday (but had had only one practice since then). The Bobcats had lost 11 straight on the road, their only victory away from Charlotte coming Nov. 4 in Miami, their first roadie of the season. The Celtics were 29-3, although one of those wins had been gift-wrapped by the Bobcats in Charlotte Nov. 24. In that game, Jason Richardson had an inbounds pass stolen, leading to a winning three at the buzzer by Ray Allen.

"I knew I had to make it up to my teammates," Richardson said. Did he ever, with a macho, 34-point performance in which several of his 14 field goals came as the shot clock was about to expire.

"Jason Richardson was tremendous, absolutely fantastic," Doc Rivers saluted.

But the Bobcats? They were still 12-21 and had not won more than two straight all season. The Celtics were going for their 10th straight victory and were coming off the huge win in Auburn Hills, Mich. Still, before the game Paul Pierce talked about the Bobcats in almost reverential terms, saying this season's Celtics prepare for every team the same way. In the past, Pierce reckoned, that might not have been the case. In the past, Pierce reckoned, a game like this might well have resulted in an upset.

Oh, well.

"Maybe it's good for us," Pierce theorized after the game. "You can always learn from a bad win. You can also learn from a bad loss." Expect that to be the theme today when the Celtics gather for practice.

Boston was without Allen, but that had not been a problem earlier in wins over Milwaukee and at Toronto. It was last night. "We missed him a lot," understated Kevin Garnett, one of the few Celtics to play anything close to normal (24 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks). Pierce suffered through a horrible shooting night (4 for 14). The Celtics missed 16 of 20 3-pointers; Pierce missed his first seven from international waters before finally connecting in the fourth quarter. He then missed one more. Not even the sight of a Brian Scalabrine dunk could get the Celtics over the hump.

What we saw last night was, basically, life in the NBA. Upsets happen all the time. It's just that they didn't happen here. This was the Celtics' first loss of the season by 5 or more points; the closest team to them in that category has six. Fans have been treated to such an otherworldly brand of basketball for the first two-plus months of the season that they somehow envisioned the Celtics being immune to the common ailments of the NBA. They aren't.

"We've spoiled not only you guys [the media], but also the fans and everybody," Garnett said. "And that's a good thing. We worked for that."

The Bobcats historically seem to give the Celtics a hard time and they were true to their history last night. This was, by far, the most convincing win over the Celtics this season - the only convincing win over the Celtics - as the Bobcats fought off an 11-point second-quarter deficit, led at the half, and took the lead for good with 97 seconds left in the third. Boston never got closer than 7 in the last seven minutes.

The Bobcats played a terrific game. They took it to the Celtics offensively (something the Pistons stopped doing in the second half) and had a humongous advantage in points in the paint (48-28). The Bobcats held an advantage on the glass (42-40). They shot better than 50 percent most of the game and finished at 48.8. They forced 17 turnovers, six in the fourth quarter.

Hey, look at it this way. The Celtics went 32 games before suffering their first stinkbomb of the season. "I wasn't waiting for one, I can tell you that," Rivers said. They weren't going to go 40-1 at home (but, trust me, no one figured Loss No. 2 would come last night).

Perhaps it was just time. Houston nearly beat them Jan. 2 and Memphis took them to the wire last Friday. The good thing for the Celtics - and Obama - is that there is another contest coming.

Peter May can be reached at p_may@globe.com.

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