The January Slide Begins
It's not often that they run into someone with Joe Frazier tendencies - a team that is capable, on a given night, of forcing the Celtics to trade punches.
The surprising difference last night was the standard of opponent throwing the body shots - a Charlotte team that was one of the worst road units in the NBA, and yet the one to hand the Celtics their first double-digit loss of the season.
The Celtics' 95-83 loss gave the Bobcats just their second road win of the season. The C's, in turn, lost for only the second time at home while shooting a cold 41.7 percent from the floor, with Paul Pierce (4-of-14, 13 points) and Eddie House (3-of-10, seven points) epitomizing the offensive struggle.
It was a strange way to have a nine-game winning streak snapped, as well as a 4-0 home streak. The Celtics now have this nugget to file next to their two-point loss to Detroit on Dec. 19, truly an odd couple of home losses.
But they knew what the Bobcats could be about. It took a buzzer-beating trey from Ray Allen - unavailable last night along with Glen Davis because of injuries - to seal a win in Charlotte on Nov. 24.
``We feel like we beat these guys twice,'' said Bobcat Gerald Wallace, who probably wouldn't have found much disagreement across the hall.
``We're not that good yet that we can just turn it on,'' said Celtic James Posey. ``You have to show enough respect for the league and be ready to play every night.''
Instead, they opened the door to all sorts of defensive trouble, starting with Charlotte's ability to shoot 49 percent.
Beyond an unstoppable 34-point long ball attack from Jason Richardson and 15 from the ever-active Wallace, the player who hurt the Celtics the most was backup center Nazr Mohammed. His 18-point, 10-rebound double-double accentuated a stunning 48-28 edge in paint scoring by Charlotte.
It was the second-worst paint performance by the C's this season. As such, no one escaped criticism.
``They got their butts kicked,'' Doc Rivers said. ``I didn't sugarcoat it. I said, hey, we all (were responsible). (Charlotte coach) Sam Vincent did a better job than me, and their players did a better job than our players. ``Give them credit. It's one thing I believe in, if they play better, give them credit,'' said the Celtics coach. ``And I thought they played better. We probably could have controlled that, but we didn't.''
With 12 minutes left it was already too late. The Celtics, after leading by a peak of 11 points in the second quarter, weren't in the mood to play catch-up.
Pierce, who scored only his second basket of the night to open the fourth quarter, was shooting 2-of-11 with 7:08 left. The Celtics trailed 81-70 as the result of a 6-0 Charlotte run when Pierce came out of a timeout with a trey. Richardson answered with a deep two, and the Celtics captain came back with a three-point play off a drive.
A pair of controversial calls - the first sending Richardson to the line after he drew minimal contact from Pierce, and the second a travel call on Posey when he appeared to be fouled shooting a trey - had the crowd on its feet.
But its indignation melted when Mohammed dunked home a putback for an 87-76 lead with 4:41 left. Perkins answered with his own dunk, but Mohammed came right back for an 89-78 Charlotte lead.
The Celtics, in the unlikely role of chaser, were staggering from some heavy shots. They had gone scoreless for almost two minutes when Garnett missed the second of two free throws, but received a break when the rebound went out off Charlotte.
But Pierce missed the ensuing 3 so badly, it banked clumsily off the rim, springing Richardson for his fourth hoop of the quarter and a 91-81 lead with 47 seconds left.