Shorthanded Celtics shown the door by Charlotte
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Things were relaxed. Too relaxed.
The Celtics were coming off games against the Mavericks and the Magic, both 1,000-watt matchups, and facing a Bobcats team they had made a habit of embarrassing.
The Celtics had beaten the Bobcats six straight times, including two of the ugliest losses in Charlotte’s history.
There was no reason to believe last night would be any different.
“In shootaround you could see it,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “The focus the day before was amazing. Today, you could see everybody was relaxed.’’
When Charlotte was supposed to break, it instead held it together, the Bobcats finding ways all night to overcome their own combustibility.
First, it was Kwame Brown going nose-to-nose with Celtics center Kendrick Perkins after taking a foul to the face. He got a technical foul for playing tough guy. Boston’s Paul Pierce got one for trying to break it up.
Not two minutes later, Charlotte’s best player, Stephen Jackson, got into an argument with a referee that led to his ejection.
Instead of unraveling, the Bobcats rallied to a 94-89 win. Shaun Livingston and Gerald Henderson came off the bench and scored 18 points and 15 points, respectively, pushing Charlotte to victory.
Eduardo Najera hit an open 3-pointer with 1:57 left that put the Bobcats ahead, 89-83, and sent the Celtics reeling.
“I thought we kind of messed around with the game and then tried to win it in the fourth and we had nothing in the tank,’’ Rivers said. “All of a sudden, the game gets close and Najera hits a three on you and you lose it. And you should.’’
As Bobcats owner Michael Jordan said as he walked out of the building, “We needed this one.’’
The loss dropped the Celtics to 38-13, and of those defeats, seven have come on the road on the tail end of back-to-backs.
“It’s the same script in five of them,’’ Rivers said. “We win a decent game the day before, we come out and just play. You could see it in the first half, just kind of goofing around. Then in the second half, you try to win it in the fourth, you have nothing left.’’
Livingston hit one of two free throws with 35.4 seconds left to put the Bobcats ahead, 90-87.
With a chance to tie it, Pierce had the ball, and looked for Ray Allen, but Henderson wouldn’t let Allen get an inch of room along the perimeter. Allen scored a game-high 25 points, drilling two 3-pointers to pull within two of taking the all-time lead from Reggie Miller.
“Of all people, they had an eye on me,’’ Allen said.
Pierce drove the lane and couldn’t get a layup to fall. After Nazr Mohammed grabbed the rebound, Rajon Rondo fouled him, and Mohammed split his free throws, giving the Bobcats all the cushion they would need.
At halftime, Rivers essentially told his team it didn’t deserve to win.
“We may win this game,’’ he said. “But we’re not putting anything into the game.’’
After the game, he said, “I thought our guys came in with their cool game, and thought they were going to win the game because of maybe our jersey.’’
With Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Delonte West, Marquis Daniels, and Semih Erden injured, the Celtics were playing shorthanded. They recalled rookie guard Avery Bradley, but didn’t play him, and Luke Harangody played seven first-half minutes but didn’t see the floor in the second half.
Rondo logged 43 minutes, and after starting the game 4 for 5 he missed his next eight shots, finishing with 10 points and 14 assists. By the final four minutes, the Celtics were forced to play with desperation.
When Najera poked a ball out of Kevin Garnett’s hands and heaved the ball upcourt to Gerald Wallace, Pierce (22 points) had no choice but to foul. He shoved Wallace into the camera row along the baseline, although it wasn’t flagrant. Wallace stayed down a while before gathering himself.
Wallace split his attempts, putting the Bobcats up, 92-87. They did everything to protect the lead the rest of the way.
“I didn’t see it turn up another notch,’’ Allen said. “I just think they did what they try to do, and I think in our locker room what we always have to remember is we’re not superior to any team because we’re the Celtics or because we think we’re good or because we have All-Stars on our team or whatever the case may be.
“We can’t rely on what’s already happened, and I think too many times, we’ve done that.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.