CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Charlotte Bobcats went small and came up big against the Celtics last night.
The backcourt combination of D.J. Augustin and Raymond Felton made the difference as the Bobcats took a 114-106 overtime victory, the Celtics' fifth loss in seven games. Augustin (20 points) and Felton (25) spearheaded the offense, combining to outscore the Celtics, 15-9, in overtime (Emeka Okafor added a Bobcat dunk) and disrupt things defensively.
The Celtics (29-7), who play host to Houston tonight, continued to falter on the road; they had a 10-1 road record before visiting the Lakers Dec. 25 and have now lost five of their last six away from home.
"When they went to a two-point-guard system, that was really effective for them," Celtics captain Paul Pierce said. "They beat us off the dribble, pick-and-roll, just driving and kicking.
"They put a lot of pressure on us with their drives and finding open guys, and when we're scrambling like that, it's tough. We've got to be able to keep the ball in front of us and keep the ball off the post.
"Right now, we're in a little bit of a funk, but no doubt in my mind we'll get out of it. We'll be all right."
Augustin converted eight foul shots in overtime and the Bobcats went 8 for 8 from the line in the final 58 seconds. After Kevin Garnett scored for the Celtics 20 seconds into overtime, Augustin sank two free throws, then combined with Felton on a steal and layup, then sank a 3-pointer.
Garnett traveled, and Okafor dunked for a 106-101 lead with 1:44 left. That would be the last Bobcat field goal. But after a Garnett miss, Augustin drew Garnett's fourth foul with :01 on the shot clock, then converted two foul shots for a 108-101 advantage with 58 seconds remaining.
Pierce cut the deficit five seconds later, but then lost possession against Augustin with 38 seconds remaining. Felton's foul shot four seconds later upped the advantage to 7 points, Pierce countering with a 3-pointer. Augustin made two more foul shots, Ray Allen missed a 3-pointer, and Augustin hit two more free throws.
"They just didn't go in," said Allen, who also missed two open shots late in regulation. "Looking back on the game we played here last year, when I hit the shot to win the game, the way they played us is similar. It's never the last possession or the last three possessions, it's the trend of what's happened in the game.
"You can say down the stretch we made bad plays, but down the stretch, things just didn't go our way. It's almost reminiscent of Atlanta. Last year, people said Atlanta shouldn't be in the same building with us. But their players were hungry and their coaching staff had them prepared, and they came out and played pretty good ball against us.
"Coaches are preparing teams every night to play against us. We enjoy the challenge. It's part of being champions. We know every game we play is marked on each team's calendar and we have to take our energy level up a couple notches."
Having hurting his right calf against New York Sunday, Garnett seemed to be playing at less than full speed at times, but regained his form late in the game.
Felton and Adam Morrison sparked an 11-1 Bobcat rally over a 2:17 span, Felton's 3-pointer regaining the lead for the Bobcats, 88-85, with 6:41 left. But the Celtics starters regrouped following a timeout, regaining the lead, 89-88, on Allen's short fadeaway with 5:02 to go. And they had a chance to take command.
But Allen was off on an open 3-point attempt with the Celtics leading, 91-90. Then a Garnett steal set up two Pierce foul shots for a 93-90 lead with 2:53 to play.
The Bobcats regained the advantage, 96-95, on a follow dunk by Okafor and Felton pull-up. But after Felton fell, leaving Allen for an unguarded miss, Felton converted a foul shot for a 97-95 edge with 20.2 seconds to go. Pierce tied the score with 3.4 seconds left, and after a timeout, Felton missed at the regulation buzzer.
"I thought our starters joined the game late in the game," coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought their starters had more energy. Down the stretch, we had some great looks. We had Ray Allen wide open for a shot, up 1 - you'll take that all day.
"I told our guys you put yourself in that position where all of a sudden, you have to make a shot, instead of playing defense all game, then those shots aren't that important. But when you put yourself in a position where it's a 1-point game and you have to make a shot, the game changes.
"I thought the guys played with the right intentions. Maybe they are tired, I don't know.
"[The Bobcats] were scoring at will. They shot over 50 percent in the second half, and that never happens against us, but it did. A lot of it came down to individual defense. Our individual defense broke down so poorly that we were basically a help defensive team all night."