Garden erupts as Allen gives Celtics the win
The Celtics consider the Charlotte Bobcats the definition of a nightmare first-round playoff opponent.
Fortunately for the Celtics, they will not likely have to face the Bobcats again this season after earning a 111-109 double-overtime victory last night - 24 hours after the Bobcats defeated the Lakers in Charlotte, N.C.
In fact, the seeding prospects of the Celtics (57-19) improved markedly as they took a one-game lead over the Orlando Magic for second place in the Eastern Conference. Charlotte (34-41) fell 1 1/2 games behind Chicago in the battle for the No. 8 seed.
The scenarios for both teams hinged on Ray Allen converting the deciding 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining in the second overtime. Allen (22 points), who was living a bad dream for most of the game, led the way in OT, capping a rally as the Celtics overcame a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Allen stole a Gerald Wallace pass and hit a three with 2:11 to go in the second OT to give the Celtics a 106-105 lead. Boston had a chance to gain a 3-point lead after a Kendrick Perkins block, but Paul Pierce's lefthanded drive missed. The Bobcats' Raymond Felton and Pierce (32 points) traded baskets, then Emeka Okafor's post-up banker gave Charlotte a 109-108 lead with 45 seconds remaining. Allen airballed a three off the dribble, but Felton missed on a drive, and Eddie House gathered the rebound. Pierce then found Allen in the corner opposite the Bobcats' bench for the winning shot. Raja Bell missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"I didn't really expect for Wallace to leave me," Allen said. "But I know Paul. Paul just had the wherewithal to throw it back to me. And that's why I always try to put myself in a position where he has a choice to pass me the ball - whether he does or not, he has a choice."
Charlotte, which took a 114-106 overtime victory over Boston Jan. 6, presented difficult matchups for the Kevin Garnett-less Celtics, who failed to adjust until it was almost too late.
The Celtics, who host Atlanta tomorrow, went through a drought of 9:58 and shot 4 for 15 in the third quarter.
Charlotte scored 33 points in the opening quarter, and the Celtics recovered with a 28-18 second quarter against a lineup missing Boris Diaw and Wallace.
In the third quarter, the Bobcats went on 8- and 10-point runs for a 77-71 lead. The Celtics struggled after going ahead, 62-53, on an Allen 3-pointer 1:26 into the second half. Charlotte's double-teams threw the Celtics off balance, and they did not convert from the field again until Pierce's three off an inbounds play, cutting the deficit to 74-68 with 36 seconds remaining in the quarter. The Bobcats' 21-6 run included three Okafor dunks. Pierce kept the Celtics in contention by hitting a 3-pointer and drawing a three-shot foul in the final minute of the quarter.
Felton stretched the Bobcats' lead to 85-73 with a drive with 8:48 remaining. But House's 3-pointer with one second on the shot clock and 6:01 remaining seemed to spark the Celtics. The Celtics closed regulation with a 14-4 run.
Charlotte still was in command as Bell's banker out of a timeout made it 93-85 with 2:03 to play. But Pierce (1:44) hit a jumper, Rajon Rondo (1:17) a drive, House a transition three off a Rondo feed (54 seconds), and Rondo two free throws (27.6). The Celtics forced a shot-clock violation, but Rondo's one-hander rolled off the rim at the buzzer.
Allen woke up after regulation, scoring 11 points in the overtimes.
"I just needed to kind of back away from it and get my legs back," he said. "I went out of the game and clean-slated it."
On the deciding play, Pierce drew two defenders and nearly a third as Wallace stepped away from Allen, then attempted to recover.
"I mean, when you have one of the greatest shooters to play the game, it's a no-brainer," Pierce said. "Maybe like three, four years ago, I would have penetrated into three guys and shot a bad shot over the defense. But I trust my teammates to the utmost. I drew the defense, Ray was wide open - regardless if he did airball the shot before that, I have total confidence in him."
Diaw hit a jumper from the corner in front of the Celtics' bench out of a timeout with 19.4 seconds left in the first OT. The shot capped an extraordinary possession in which the Bobcats missed three times but grabbed two offensive rebounds and controlled a jump ball.
But seven seconds after Diaw's shot, Allen tied it with a three out of a timeout, then rebounded a Charlotte miss with two seconds to go. But the first OT ended as Celtics coach Doc Rivers's attempt to call a timeout was ignored by officials. Both Rivers and Charlotte coach Larry Brown believed they had cause to complain - the Bobcats tied a franchise low for free throw attempts with seven.
"I love it when it looks like you can't win and then you come out and you still win the game," Rivers said. "That says a lot about your team."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.