|SAM VINCENT Hustling team|
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Charlotte Bobcats are off to their best start in franchise history. Amazingly, the 96-95 loss to the Celtics Saturday night, which made them 6-7, represents the first time the team has been below .500 all season. They got win No. 6 a month before they got No. 6 in any of their three previous years.
"I'm never surprised by them," said Boston coach Doc Rivers. "They are one of the hardest-playing teams in the NBA. They were doing it with Bernie [ Bickerstaff] and now they are doing it with Sam [Vincent]. This team, in my opinion, will probably be a playoff team. They just play hard every night. We knew coming in that even if we played well, this was going to be a hard game. They are going to get a lot of breaks that go their way. They are a dangerous basketball team."
Vincent, a rookie coach who had only one year of NBA experience (as an assistant last year at Dallas) before coming here, undoubtedly will come under some fire for some late decisions Saturday night.
Why, for instance, didn't he call his final timeout before Jason Richardson's botched inbounds pass, which led to Ray Allen's winning 3-pointer? That would have allowed the Bobcats to have the ball farther up the floor. Why was Emeka Okafor in the game at all when the situation clearly called for free-throw shooting? One NBA scout at the game said Okafor, a poor free throw shooter, was wide open on the inbounds play, but Richardson was clearly unwilling to pass it to him.
"It's all part of the growing pains to get to the next level," Vincent said. "I am very encouraged by the way the guys fought and the way they played. We feel like we made some big strides. I still see this game as a confidence-builder."
Tony Allen played only five first-half minutes before leaving the game after getting kneed in the thigh by Primoz Brezec. "I can hardly stand up," Allen said, limping his way out of the locker room. "But I'll get treatment for it and see how it feels." The Celtics remained in Charlotte over the weekend, will practice today at UNC-Charlotte (Cedric Maxwell's alma mater), and then fly to Cleveland later this afternoon for tomorrow night's game with the Cavaliers . . . The Celtics gave Allen the game ball after his winning shot . . . Ex-Boston College Eagle Jared Dudley played a season-high 39 minutes, starting for the injured Gerald Wallace, who had a strained calf. His season averages of 4.7 points and 3.3 rebounds have come in just 12 1/2 minutes of playing time per game . . . Garnett has 12 double doubles in as many games. In addition to his 23 points and 11 rebounds Saturday night, he also had five assists and three blocks . . . Gabe Pruitt had 31 points and eight assists for the Utah Flash, who won their D-League Opener Saturday night, 110-109, over the Anaheim Arsenal. Brandon Wallace, the other Celtic assigned to the team, had 14 points and five rebounds.
Peter May can be reached at P_May@globe.com.