The Celtics’ seven-game win streak was snapped by a fresher and, frankly, younger Bobcats squad that came in with a seven-game win streak. After Kevin Garnett’s jump shot with 2:15 on the clock, the Bobcats scored the game’s final seven points to earn just their fifth win since Christmas.
Jeff Green led all scorers with 18 points off the bench and Garnett had 16 points and 13 assists, but the Celtics simply fell flat in the second half. Pierce never found his shooting rhythm, but he did finish with another do-it-all line of 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Ramon Sessions and Kemba Walker exploded for 27 points combined in the second half after Byron Mullens, who scored 25 points in the game with 14 rebounds, carried Charlotte through the first half.
The Celtics simply ran out of gas, which is not unexpected, and now have one more game before a welcome five-day break for All-Star weekend.
Fourth quarter, :14.8, Bobcats 92-91: It will take a miracle now to keep the Celtics’ streak alive. Garnett had a great look at a go-ahead jumper, but it was well of the left. The intentional foul gave the ‘Cats a chance to go up by three, which Walker gave them by cashing in both free throws.
Fourth quarter, :25.7, Bobcats 92-91: Sessions hit an elbow jumper, Bradley came up limping and the Celtics are looking haggard. The guys in green are dropping like flies.
Fourth quarter, :34.2, Celtics 91-90: Not sure about you, but I’m ready for three more overtimes. No? OK, then it’s just me.
Garnett had a chance to pretty much put this game away with another long jumper, but it spun out and Henderson advanced the ball to the other end without anyone stepping up. So the Bobcats guard took and made the three to pull Charlotte within one and put the Celtics in another nail-biter.
Fourth quarter, 1:33, Celtics 91-87: Did Garnett put on the Konami code or something before the last three minutes? The Big Ticket has hit a couple of impressive shots, including a soft jumper that rolled around the rim for a while before rolling into the hoop.
Fourth quarter, 2:46, Celtics 89-85: The Celtics would really be better served just letting the Bobcats take control here, coasting through the final minutes and resting up for Wednesday’s first-half finale against the Bulls. Try telling Garnett and Terry that.
The Celtics’ “original O.G.’s,” in Terry’s words, came through right after a tough running bank shot by Henderson gave Charlotte an 85-84 lead. Terry drilled a three and Garnett canned a turnaround jumper to regain control for the Celtics, who have no plans to rest and relax right now.
Fourth quarter, 7:35, Celtics 82-77: Bye bye, Bobcats.
The Celtics had seized momentum and might have been close to putting this one away when Garnett canned a long jump shot to complete a 10-0 run. Dunlap scrambled to call another timeout as the Celtics are slowly starting to pull it together for the stretch run here.
Fourth quarter, 9:26, Celtics 78-77: The three is often a great equalizer that keeps bad teams from staying within striking distance of good teams. In this game it is helping the Celtics stay alive despite weary legs.
Terry banged a pull-up three in transition and Green followed the next time down the floor with a three from the left corner before Charlotte’s defense was set. Just like that, the Celtics, who have looked flat for most of the second half, have the lead and a worried Mike Dunlap was calling a quick timeout to chat with his squad.
End of third quarter, Bobcats 75-72: As impressive as the Celtics have been since losing two key players, they are in no position to lose another body. That was why Barbosa spending several minutes on the floor is so worrisome for them.
Barbosa drove down the left side of the lane and pulled up lame without any contact. After he passed the ball away, he crumpled to the ground, clearly feeling some sort of pain in his leg. He does not look like he will return.
In the meantime, the Celtics’ seven-game win streak is on the line. Pierce found a cutting Wilcox for a finger-roll as the buzzer sounded to pull the Celtics within three points, but this was not a productive 12 minutes for Boston. The Celtics were outscored 33-24 and their offense stopped flowing. Pierce started to play hero ball and Green has grown very silent, scoring only four points since halftime.
Third quarter, 1:54, Bobcats 70-66: If Bill Walton were calling this game, he might compare Byron Mullens to Nikola Tesla or Joan of Arc or something.
Mullens is having quite the game for the Bobcats, who are keeping the Celtics just at arm’s length. He dropped a turnaround jumper with a little less than three minutes to go in the quarter to give him 25 points, more than double his scoring average. He is also 4-for-5 from deep, which is out of character. As we mentioned earlier, he typically shoots about 30 percent from downtown.
Third quarter, 5:51, Bobcats 60-59: The spry young ‘Cats look like the ones coached by Rivers, because they are fulfilling the Celtics’ coach’s mantra of pushing the ball and attacking the hoop. With the exception of Mullen’s third three of the ball game, every single Charlotte basket in the second half has been at the rim or due to the threat of the drive, like Walker’s short jumper to open the scoring. Everything else is a layup or a free throw.
Halftime, Celtics 48-42: Biyombo is a raw second-year forward with a developing offensive game, but he has something that cannot be taught. His timing and athleticism to block shots are already elite-level.
The 6-foot-9 player out of the Democratic Republic of Congo has four rejections at halftime, including an emphatic swat of Lee’s layup attempt at the end of the first half. His defensive work has helped the Celtics from running away with this game, even as every Boston player who has checked into this game has scored.
For a bad team — and Charlotte is very bad — the Bobcats do not turn the ball over much. In fact, they are the fifth-best team in the NBA at protecting the basketball, and it shows. They have just six turnovers so far. There problems have more to do with an inability to force turnovers and a complete inability to defend the 3-point line. They allow their opponents to shoot almost 40 percent from deep, so Boston’s 2-for-2 mark from downtown is no surprise. But the Celtics would be well-served to let fly in the second half.
Second quarter, 6:46, Celtics 40-32: Here is a new rule for the Celtics: Give the ball to a guy who had heart surgery last year and get out of the way.
Green is owning every small defender the Bobcats send his way, posting and driving his way to 11 points. Chris Wilcox, Green’s “scar buddy,” is having some fun, too. Wilcox, whose alley-oop game has been interrupted by Rondo’s injury, executed a flawless pick and roll with Barbosa for a tomahawk dunk to give Boston its largest lead of the game. Wilcox was not going to be left out of Green and Lee’s dunk party — who’s next?
Second quarter, 8:35, Celtics 33-29: Ramon Sessions has not always had the privilege to play on great teams, but one thing he has always done is put pressure on the defense. After made baskets by opponents, Sessions takes the inbounds and dashes right back up the court, often getting into the lane before the defense is even set. He has already done so three times against the Celtics, working two layups and a trip to the foul line out of his aggression.
Speaking of aggressiveness, Jeff Green is living it right now. He has posted up twice immediately after getting a smaller defender, and he powered baseline for a reverse dunk to outdo a highlight-reel slam by Lee in the first quarter.
End of first quarter, Celtics 26-24: We knew these pesky Bobcats would not give the Celtics a restful, easy win the day after going three overtimes. They made the Celtics work on both ends, moving the ball effectively and getting eight assists on their 10 field goals. (The Celts had nine on 10, for their part.) After his 10-point outburst, Mullens scored only one point the rest of the way, but his teammates emerged. Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions showed no hesitation taking their shots off the bench.
First quarter, 4:20, Celtics 18-16: After playing just two seconds of Sunday’s triple-overtime win over the Nuggets, Collins makes an early appearance against the Bobcats. The Celtics will need him. With Garnett, Pierce, Terry, Green and Bradley playing well over 40 minutes in the previous game, the Celtics will call upon guys like Collins, Lee and Barbosa, who played relatively short minutes against Denver, to pick up the slack.
First quarter, 5:50, Bobcats 16-14: Byron Mullens is a perfectly fine NBA player, a promising young big man and a vital part of the Bobcats’ young core moving forward. But in the opening minutes the Celtics made him look like an All-Star.
Mullens scored the Bobcats’ first 10 points, hitting a 3-pointer to briefly give Charlotte its first lead. He drained another three a minute later to pull the Bobcats even at 10-10. The three is a shot Mullens takes, even if he makes it with only marginal regularity. He attempted 4.5 threes per game but shoots just under 31 percent from deep.
6:08 p.m.: Doc Rivers said after Sunday’s game that he would not give any of his players a preemptive “DNP” for Monday’s game in Charlotte. He did say he would use the “eye test,” however, particularly on veterans Paul Pierce, who played 54 minutes against the Nuggets, and Kevin Garnett, who went for 47 minutes in the triple-overtime win.
The full complement of Celtics, all 11 of them, therefore will be available. Garnett and Pierce are due to start, as usual, but Rivers will watch them closely. The same goes for Avery Bradley, who is always on a tight watch due to his offseason shoulder surgeries, and Jason Collins, who played only two seconds against Denver because of a sore back.
The projected starting lineups appear below.
11 a.m. ET: Just when it seemed like things could not get any weirder for the Celtics, they upped the ante. Fresh off a two-day break thanks to the weekend’s snowstorm, the Celtics survived a three-overtime slugfest with the Nuggets on Sunday. They then promptly hit the road for a matchup in Charlotte on Monday night.
If the Celtics (27-23) have anything left in the tank, they can extend their win streak to eight games with a victory over the Bobcats (11-39). That will not be as easy as Charlotte’s record suggests, however. The Bobcats have pushed the Heat and Lakers to the limit in the last week, and as Celtics coach Doc Rivers marveled when the Bobcats visited the TD Garden last month, “they just keep playing.”
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will have their minutes watched closely, as they were stretched in Sunday’s win. Pierce played 54 minutes while putting up a triple-double and Garnett posted 47 minutes.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 7 p.m. ET.