BOSTON — For the Boston Celtics, Friday night’s 106-103 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats was a long time coming. It was their first win since March 19.
For the Bobcats, bound for the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history, the loss ended a five-game winning streak and could mean the difference between winning a playoff series and bowing out in the first round.
“I think the biggest thing from my standpoint is I’m happy for those guys,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said after his team ended a nine-game losing streak. “You know it’s not easy to get through that.”
The Celtics, as is the case more often than not, fought hard for this second win in the last 16 games. The same can’t be said for the Bobcats, who did fight back from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit and then almost came back from seven down late — but still suffered the loss.
“We got what we deserved,” said Bobcats center Al Jefferson, a former Celtic who did what he could with 30 points and 10 rebounds. “We didn’t play the way you’re supposed to play it on defense. Give credit to them — they had a hell of an offensive game, but we got what we deserved.”
And it could be costly.
By losing, the Bobcats dropped a game behind the Washington Wizards for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. While that may not sound like much, sixth means avoiding both Miami and Indiana in the first round — and getting Toronto or Chicago.
“We should be a team right now that should be hungry to get better to get ready to play in the playoffs,” said Bobcats coach Steve Clifford. “We play a playoff game at this intensity, defensively tonight, teams are going to score 110, 115.”
After blowing the 13-point lead, the Celtics, playing without point guard Rajon Rondo, then used a late 8-0 spurt to take command.
Charlotte, missing its point guard, Kemba Walker (both were out with injuries), came right back, but it was too little too late, as guard Jannaro Pargo missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“We had a couple of games we should have won, kind of let it go towards the end of the game — but we just had to buckle down and won this one,” said rookie guard Phil Pressey, who had a career-high 13 assists to go with 10 points, five rebounds, three steals and a big offensive tap that allowed Boston to keep the ball in the closing seconds.
Celtics forward Jared Sullinger, who returned in the fourth quarter after leaving in the third with a mild ankle sprain, started the late spurt with a 3-pointer. Forward Jeff Green made it 101-97 and guard Avery Bradley canned another three. The Celtics were 11-for-23 from 3-point range in the game.
Ahead by seven, the Celtics almost blew that lead, too, but held on.
Bradley led the Celtics with 22 points. Boston, which is jockeying for a different kind of position — the draft lottery – got 20 points and seven rebounds from Sullinger and 18 points apiece from Green and forward Brandon Bass.
After Pressey kept the ball alive in the final seconds, Sullinger hit two free throws, completing a 13-for-13 night at the line for the home team.
Bass, who grabbed the loose ball created by the Pressey tap, added nine rebounds in the win, while forward Josh McRoberts had nine points and 10 assists in the loss, as five Bobcats reached double figures.
“We just didn’t put much into the game,” said Clifford, who didn’t know if Walker would play Saturday night against Philadelphia. “I thought they deserved to win. They tried harder than we did.
“We didn’t want to play defense tonight.”
NOTES: Charlotte and former Celtic C Al Jefferson fell to 1-12 against his old team. … Celtics guard Jerryd Bayless left in the second half with a right knee sprain. … What would have been a nifty point guard matchup between Charlotte’s Kemba Walker and Boston’s Rajon Rondo did not occur because both missed the game with injuries. Walker, averaging 17.8 points, 6.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game, was out with a groin issue. “He’s a dynamic guy, defensively and offensively,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. Rondo was a late scratch with left shin/calf soreness. Because he does not play back-to-back nights as he returns from knee surgery, Rondo was slated to miss Saturday night’s game in Cleveland. There was no word on whether he would play Saturday instead of Friday. … The Bobcats finish at home against Philadelphia on Saturday night, at Atlanta on Monday and home against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. … F Kris Humphries, who has had a solid year for Boston, returned after missing two games with right knee trouble. He had four points and seven rebounds in 11:26 of playing time.
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