Final: Celtics 99, Bobcats 94. We've seen quite a few games like this one this season, and this was another. The Celtics walk away with a solid five-point victory by holding strong in the second half. It took them a while to fully wake up, but a solid third-quarter effort did the trick.
Shaquille O'Neal played a season-high 35 minutes and made the most of them, finishing with 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting. All five C's starters finished in double figures, including a double-double (18 points, 13 assists) from Rajon Rondo.
Gerald Wallace scored 20 in a losing effort. Stephen Jackson shot a shaky 5-for-17 as the Bobcats faded down the stretch.
The Celtics are off until Monday, when they're due for a big home showdown with the Orlando Magic. Get ready.
Fourth quarter, 2:19, Celtics 94-85: Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Shaquille O'Neal, Clutch Free-Throw Shooter.
Shaq knocks down two big ones here to pad the Celtics' lead. Despite all his weaknesses — free throws, pick-and-roll defense, etc. — the big fella has managed to carry the Celtics in this game. Pretty crazy.
Fourth quarter, 3:03, Celtics 90-83: After going on a long sabbatical, D.J. Augustin has decided to be an impact player in this game again. He had nine points in the first quarter; he's now got 14.
Augustin knocks down a 3 here to bring Charlotte back to within seven. The Bobcats are down, but they're not quite out.
Fourth quarter, 3:42, Celtics 89-80: The Celtics have finally put in their crunch-time five to finish the ballgame, with Paul Pierce replacing Marquis Daniels.
If the Celtics can string together a few stops and hit their free throws down the stretch, they can finish this thing off.
Fourth quarter, 6:00, Celtics 89-78: Even when Ray Allen airballs a 3, he still finds a way to make something of it — he draws a foul, gets to the line and makes two free throws.
Ray is now 5-for-6 from the line. He's got 19 total points in this one.
Fourth quarter, 6:00, Celtics 84-76: Ray Allen just drove daggers through the Bobcats' hearts. Plural.
With back-to-back 3s, Ray stakes the Celtics to an eight-point lead with six minutes to play. Sometimes, all it takes is a couple of big jumpers to break the game open.
Ray's now 4-for-6 from long range in this game. He's got 2,530 3s for his career, 30 away from tying Reggie Miller for the all-time record.
Fourth quarter, 8:06, Celtics 78-74: Shaquille O'Neal is officially killing it.
He's now 10-for-12 from the floor, for a game-high 21 points. On a night when the rest of the Celtics can't hit the broad side of a barn, Shaq has been absurdly efficient and shows no signs of slowing.
This is the 1994 Shaq. I've missed him.
Fourth quarter, 8:54, Celtics 76-72: Nate Robinson doesn't get discouraged — the kid just keeps chucking. There goes another missed 3, and he's now 0-for-3 from long range, 1-for-6 overall.
The Celtics' bench has combined to shoot 3-for-15. It just keeps getting worse, doesn't it?
Fourth quarter, 9:29, Celtics 76-70: Shaquille O'Neal just got another bucket inside against Kwame Brown. They may both be No. 1 picks, but Kwame's got nothing on Shaq. Can't stop him.
The Diesel has 19 points now on 9-of-11 shooting. When he's on, he's on.
End of third quarter, Celtics 69-66: The Celtics manage a three-point lead over the Bobcats at the break despite a 2-for-13 shooting performance from their bench. In a way, you can't help but be impressed.
All five Celtics starters are in double figures. All five reserves have been horrendous (with the possible exception of Marquis Daniels, who's been smart and efficient as usual).
The C's need to lean on their starters to carry them in this fourth quarter.
Third quarter, 2:06, Celtics 62-61: The Bobcats are finally starting to establish the post. Nazr Mohammed and Boris Diaw each get a bucket inside, and suddenly the Bobcats have a 6-0 run and have cut the Celtics' lead to one.
Right now the C's front line consists of two rookies off the bench, Semih Erden and Luke Harangody. Those two guys need to play tough, physical defense to keep the Celtics in front.
Third quarter, 4:05, Celtics 62-55: Marquis Daniels gets to the line and misses two free throws, but hey — the Celtics have still scored 20 points in the first eight minutes of the quarter. Ridiculous.
Paul Pierce leads all scorers with 17, but he's currently watching from the bench as Daniels struggles to get anything going in his place.
Rajon Rondo and his double-double (10 points, 11 dimes now) remain in the ballgame.
Third quarter, 6:22, Celtics 58-52: Shaquille just got 18,000 Celtics fans out of their seats by running the floor and getting himself to the basket for a layup. Then he made 18,000 people sit back down, groaning, as he missed that layup.
The Celtics are starting to build a nice little lead in this third quarter, but little mistakes like missed layups are holding them back from running away with this thing.
Still, a nice night for Shaq, all things considered. He's got 14 points and five boards, and he's 7-for-9. Shoulda been 8-for-9, though.
Third quarter, 9:31, Celtics 49-44: Solid start to the second half for the Celtics, who open up on a 7-2 run. Paul Pierce knocks down a deep 3, and Shaquille O'Neal gets a bucket inside to pad the lead. The C's offense is at its most efficient of the night, right now.
Rajon Rondo keeps piling up the assists. He had seven at halftime; now he's got nine.
The C's are shooting 47.7 percent now. It's an improvement, but they can still do better.
Halftime, 42-42: Another night, another time the Celtics work like dogs to salvage a halftime tie with an inferior team. So it goes.
Rajon Rondo knocks down a running jumper on the Celtics' final possession of the half. He's now got eight points and seven assists to lead the way for the C's.
D.J. Augustin has dropped nine for the Bobcats, who haven't been very efficient offensively but they're surviving with speed and aggression.
The C's need to get some production out of their bench in the second half to win this thing. Right now the reserves are 0-for-8 for zero combined points.
Second quarter, 2:58, 38-38: The Celtics' defense looks almost as suffocating as it was last month, when the C's slaughtered the Bobcats down in Charlotte. But where's the offense?
The Celtics are only 16-for-35 from the field, including 0-for-8 from their bench guys. They've got to shoot better if they want to pull ahead in this thing. The execution has been fine, but the shots aren't falling.
Second quarter, 5:40, Bobcats 34-33: So far, the Bobcats have been unable to exploit their mismatch with the smaller Celtics. For some reason, they're settling for outside jump shots instead, as their two Geralds (Gerald Wallace, Gerald Henderson) are chucking and missing.
At some point, the Bobcats might want to establish Brown and Thomas down low. It hasn't happened yet.
Second quarter, 7:32, Bobcats 33-30: Here comes our first taste of the "going small" Celtics. With Semih Erden in foul trouble and Shaquille O'Neal exhausted, the Celtics are going to a front line of Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels.
Basically everyone on the floor for the Celtics is 6-foot-7 or shorter.
How are they going to match up with Tyrus Thomas, or Kwame Brown for that matter? We shall see.
Second quarter, 8:34, Bobcats 30-26: Tyrus Thomas is really growing as an all-around player. One significant area of improvement — he can knock down mid-range jump shots now.
The big fella is more known for his rebounding and his energy on defense, but he's knocking down shots from all over the place against the Celtics. With his length and his athleticism, he can thrive against the short-handed Celtics.
Thomas is 3-for-4 so far, with six points off the bench.
Second quarter, 9:53, Bobcats 28-26: Nate Robinson has opened the ballgame 0-for-4 from the field, with all of his shots coming from fairly deep.
Nate can be an effective weapon when he finds his shot within the rhythm of the offense, but right now he's really just chucking. It's ugly.
End of first quarter, 24-24: Well, this is a new one — Shaquille O'Neal is the guy filling in due to foul trouble, not the guy getting into it.
Semih Erden is in big trouble with three early fouls, so Shaq is back into the game with only one. Surrounded by four backups, he quickly becomes the focal point of the offense. Remember, this was the original plan — way back when, Shaq was brought in to anchor the second unit.
The big fella closes the quarter with four points and four boards. Solid start for him. Meanwhile Paul Pierce has seven points, and Rondo has four with five assists.
D.J. Augustin continues to shine for the Bobcats, dropping nine on the C's to open the ballgame.
First quarter, 2:54, Celtics 20-16: This might be Glen Davis' last start for a long time, and by golly, he's going to make the most of it.
The Celtics are going to Big Baby early and often, and as usual, Baby is playing like a black hole. He sucks the ball in, and he doesn't let it back out.
The Baby pick and roll has been a staple of the offense in the first quarter. He's currently just 1-for-3 from the field, but he just drew a foul from Boris Diaw and he's got two free throws coming up.
First quarter, 4:15, Celtics 18-14: Semih Erden was considered a game-time decision earlier Friday evening, as he missed Thursday's practice with a groin pull.
Now it looks like he's playing. Good thing, too — if not for Semih, the Celtics would need Shaquille O'Neal to play all 48 minutes, and we all know that ain't happening.
Shaq does log four rebounds in the opening minutes. Solid start for him.
First quarter, 5:51, Celtics 15-10: The Celtics are hitting their shots early — seven of their first 12, including a beautiful 3 from Paul Pierce that opens a five-point Boston lead.
Rajon Rondo's already got four assists.
As I type those words, he gets his fifth.
The C's are rolling.
First quarter, 8:08, 8-8: The Bobcats run into a scary moment early, as D.J. Augustin takes a hard fall and is very, very slow to get up. It looks like he's OK, though, and he'll stay in the game.
Good for the Bobcats. Augustin has been the key to their aggressive, run-and-gun offense ever since Paul Silas arrived as their new coach. If he goes down, everything changes.
First quarter, 9:29, Celtics 6-2: Good start for Rajon Rondo — he's now got two points, two assists, one rebound, and one absolutely ridiculous lob pass for a Shaquille O'Neal alley-oop.
The Celtics' offense is looking not only flashy, but efficient too. They'll look to keep the assisted buckets up and the turnovers down going forward.
First quarter, 11:33, Celtics 2-0: Rajon Rondo's mid-range jumper may only be a last-resort option, but sometimes it really works. The little man knocks down a smooth jumper on the opening play, and Boston has an early lead.
Rondo says the jumper has never been a big point of emphasis for him — and yet he keeps making it.
7:15 p.m.: The big pregame news in the Celtics' locker room is that Jermaine O'Neal is here, and he says he'll have a decision Tuesday on whether to have knee surgery.
O'Neal's knee has been a constant problem this season, but he's still hoping to fight through it without going under the knife. He'll make one more medical visit Monday before making a final decision.
Meanwhile, the C's will try to pull off a victory over the Bobcats despite a lot of bigs being missing in action.
6 p.m.: Welcome to the TD Garden, where there's once again no Kevin Garnett to be seen as the Celtics' star hides behind the scenes for Friday night's contest against the Bobcats.
There's also no sign of Jermaine O'Neal, but what else is new?
The shorthanded C's tip things off with the Bobcats at 7:30 p.m.
8 a.m.: As it has been every day this week, the first question for Doc Rivers at the Celtics' Thursday practice was about the status of Kevin Garnett. Only this time, there was actually some good news to report.
"He went through probably half the practice," an upbeat Rivers said. "More than that, actually. He looked pretty good."
Then, he added: "He's not playing tomorrow, but he looked pretty good."
Once again, the Celtics will have to weather another game amid the letdown of Garnett failing to make his return. The original estimate was as early as Monday for KG to complete his comeback from a strained calf muscle; now, four days later, The Big Ticket is still missing in action. The latest projection is next Monday, when the C's take on the Magic.
The Celtics can't pay it any mind. If Rivers is worth the shoes he's wearing, he'll tell his players to focus solely on winning the games they can win with the players they have. Garnett won't be on the floor Friday, and neither will Jermaine O'Neal with his sore knee. But the C's still have plenty of talent to put to work against the 15-21 Bobcats.
This isn't your typical 15-21 club. The Bobcats made the playoffs in the East last season, and they've got their sights set on doing it again. Thanks to four straight wins, including an impressive one Wednesday night over a strong Bulls team, the Bobcats are now in position to return to the postseason.
They've still got a pair of strong perimeter players in Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace, and they're beginning to get a breakout season out of young point guard D.J. Augustin. If the Celtics take these Bobcats lightly, they've got a surprise coming their way.