CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Bobcats are headed to the NBA playoffs for just the second time in franchise history, and they go in on a roll.
The Bobcats outlasted the Chicago Bulls 91-86 in overtime on Wednesday night for their third straight win and the eighth in their last nine games.
They will face the defending NBA champion Miami Heat in the first round as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, and they will be decided underdogs. But the Bobcats were full of confidence after pulling out a game that definitely had playoff intensity.
“I think this was the type of game we needed going into the playoffs,” center Al Jefferson said. “That’s a playoff team, and that was a playoff-type game we played tonight. It was a great win. I don’t think any other team besides us has been playing as well as Chicago the last couple months, and to get a win like this, especially since they beat us three times already, to get a win over a team like that is great momentum going into the playoffs.”
Coach Steve Clifford had been critical of the Bobcats (43-39) even after recent wins but was pleased with Wednesday night’s effort.
“Tonight we played the way we need to play,” Clifford said. “I think after we clinched a playoff spot, we kind of exhaled a little bit. We were not ourselves the last few games. But tonight we had it for the entire game. I think everyone could see that we had our intensity and it was a good, hard-fought win.”
Guard Kemba Walker led the Bobcats with 22 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. He had eight points in overtime as the Bobcats outscored Chicago 11-6 with a 10-1 run to open the extra period.
Jefferson banged a knee early in the game and was hobbling, but he still played 41 minutes and finished with 10 points and 18 rebounds. The Bobcats also got 13 points from forward Chris Douglas-Roberts and 11 from guard Gerald Henderson.
The Bobcats trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half and had to rally in the final minute of regulation. Walker’s two free throws with 35.9 seconds left in regulation tied it at 80-80, and then after Chicago forward Taj Gibson missed a jumper from the side, Walker missed a 20-footer at the regulation buzzer.
Charlotte then dominated the overtime, scoring the first four points and holding Chicago without a field goal until the final 31 seconds.
The Bulls (48-34) failed in an attempt to overtake No. 3 Toronto, and will go into the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed. They will face No. 5 Washington.
“I just want to say that I appreciate my teammates on a hard season,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said. “They worked their butts off, even though it ended on a sad note losing tonight in overtime. Overall, we gave it everything we had and there’s no regrets in that. Now, we will have fun in the playoffs.”
Guard DJ Augustin came off the bench to lead the Bulls with 17 points. Noah had 14 points and 13 rebounds, and forward Carlos Boozer finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Forward Mike Dunleavy and guard Jimmy Butler scored 12 each.
“There are some things we did well and there are some things that we have to do better,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “In the playoffs, you’ve got to be as sharp as possible because most often these games come down to one or two possessions. That’s what happened tonight, and we were in great position to win the game. That’s why tonight’s game was good preparation for that.”
NOTES: The win snapped the Bobcats’ five-game losing streak to the Bulls. Chicago had won 10 of the previous 11 games between the teams. … Four of the game’s 10 starters came from Duke — F Carlos Boozer and F Mike Dunleavy for the Bulls and F Josh McRoberts and G Gerald Henderson for the Bobcats. … This was a meeting of two of the NBA’s most defensive-minded teams. The Bulls led the NBA in scoring defense at 91.8 entering the game and the Bobcats ranked fourth at 97.2. … The Bobcats barely fell short of a franchise record for wins. The record is 44, set by the 2009-10 team. … The Bobcats’ 95-93 victory at Atlanta on Monday gave them a franchise-record 18 road wins, shattering the previous franchise best of 13. … Bulls G DJ Augustin was back after missing the Monday’s win over Orlando because of the birth of his son, Trey. … The Bobcats were without C Brendan Haywood (stress fracture left foot) and F Jeffery Taylor (ruptured right Achilles), as they have been for months. … The Bulls have been without G Derrick Rose (right knee) since 10 games into the season.
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