Let’s see… Saint Patrick’s Day Weekend in Boston. Green beer flowing, the Flogging Molly’s playing and the Dropkick Murphies are about to hit the road en route to North Carolina. We just schooled the most storied team in basketball a few days ago. Now we walk into the room with more banners and retired shirts than any team in history. Paul Pierce, the current Hall of Fame candidate and potential jersey retiree won’t be taking the day off this time and he’s gonna be hungry for a huge plate o’ payback. In the NBA this type of game is called a “Test of Character” for a team like the Bobcats. A quick call to a bud of mine in my former Back Bay stomping grounds earned me a laugh and a bet that the Bobcats won’t finish within 20 points of the Celts tonight and offered me 20 to 1 against a Cats victory. I didn’t take him up on it. I love my Cats, but I love electricity and groceries more. He called me a chicken. I offered to shoot an egg out of my butt in case he had any doubts. Did I miss a chance to not only get rich but to also make a chump out of a once successful music man? Well, my lights are still on but I still have a twelve-year-old car in the driveway, so that should tell you. Details are a mere click away.
What’s that? The name of the musician? I learned long ago that there are only 2 things essential to a successful life. First, never, ever tell anyone everything that you know.
The Cats won the tap and the officials lost the hearts of the hometown crowd by calling an early out of bounds the other way. Josh “Knife” McRoberts found a slashing Gerald Henderson for an easy layup in a play we haven’t seen in quite a while out of the Bobcats. The pass was truly a thing of beauty and the Celtics were flat-footed. It’s the sort of thing that you get away with in Boston exactly once. I blinked my eyes and the Celtics were on a seven-point run. Henderson put a quick end to that. For all the trade talks against him and the ink poured praising Kemba Walker this season, Gerald Henderson has managed to quietly grow into what I would call one of the truly essential “twos” in the NBA.
The Cats once again shocked the Celtics with a backdoor alley-oop to McRoberts and that’s where I noticed the major difference between our heroes and the playoff teams. For the teams bound for the post season, such shots are on Sportscenter. For teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, the shots ring and rattle the rim and bounce out. Seconds later the Celtic lead grew to nine, 20-11. Jannero Pargo, our 2013 Ten Day Roster Hopeful became our first player off the bench, proving that a journeyman shows up at the first practice with the memorized playbook in his duffel. He was joined by Byron Mullens, who has looked truly sullen and miserable since his minutes and starter status evaporated. Despite some hustling stats in his first few games back after his injury, Mullie has clearly been struggling with his hops and shooting. He needs a good night like Cubs fans need a World Series win. The bench held strong and the Bobcats weathered the initial Celtics efforts to bury a few Cats in their back yard. Responding to the Celtics scoring with an 11-2 run of their own, the Bobcats closed out the quarter knotted up with Boston’s favorite team 24-24.
Celtics aggressiveness caused them to demonstrate something that’s been as much a part of their traditional personality that goes all the way back to the beloved North Station/Haymahket Squaya Boston Gahden. Before four minutes elapsed in the second quarter, Boston was in the penalty and the Cats had a grand opportunity to gain some ground from the charity stripe. Mullens was the first to take advantage and Kemba Walker, always ready to exploit an opening, instantly charged the lane. As usual, Kemba, the Human Pugil Stick Helmet, got clubbed like a baby seal by several defenders without earning a whistle. I truly believe the day will come when a defender will be standing on the court with Kemba’s left lung in his hand and the ref will still yell, “Play on!”
Coach Dunlap poured a bit of water on Ben Gordon and Mr. Instant Offense took the court and began scoring like it was what he was born to do. The Green Machine had begun to run away with the game, but between Gordon, a nifty block by Bismack Biyombo, and some hustle by Josh McRoberts brought the Fighting Felines back to with a point with four minutes remaining in the half. After a reverse layup with a lot of contact, McRoberts seemed to be favoring his right ankle just a bit. Paul Pierce, another eagle-eyed player that never misses an exploitation point, spotted it and drove right at Josh for an and-one that stretched the Beantown lead to five. The Celtics once again kicked in the afterburners and made an all-out effort to get the Bobcats to cave. Against most other teams such a withering assault would be good for a lead into the teens at the very least. The Bobcats however, have fresh memories of turning back the best fire the Celts can bring. Was the assault effective? Yes, but only to a point. When the horn sounded to announce halftime, the Celtics had indeed opened a lead, but it was a slender and fragile seven points. Halftime score – Boston 50, Charlotte 43.
It was one heck of a half. My two favorite teams were going after one another in an old-fashioned hardcore street fight. I loved it. The Celtics had the advantage in two key stats. The Bobcats failed to take full advantage of the early Celtics foul trouble, shooting an anemic 6 for 11 from the stripe and the famously friendly Boston rims helped the Celts run up a 25-18 advantage on the boards. But the Cats got through the half with only 5 turnovers, and were in the thick of it in terms of points in the paint trailing Boston by a mere 22-20 in that category. When was the last time the Bobcats remained competitive under the net? Look at the Charlotte win-loss record and complain all you wish, but the additional support of Josh McRoberts – considered an average forward at best – has allowed us to become competitive against teams that picked us to shreds earlier in the season. Bottom line? The Charlotte Bobcats truly are a team that is currently only a couple of key players away from completely reversing that win/loss number and becoming true contenders. The continued development of MKG and Bismack cannot be overstated when looking to the Bobcats’ future either. As they grow into their NBA uniforms, this team grows into a contender. That’s the real of it. The haters and doubters will discover the truth soon enough and start scrambling up on to the bandwagon. Y’all will forgive me if I accidentally lose my grip while “helping” folks on board and dump a few onto the Trade Street pavement, right? Yeah, I thought so. We long-suffering faithful fans haven’t just been keeping the seats warm on the fan bus for the noobs, right? Right.
The first half of the third was spent with both teams trading buckets back and forth. For any other team in the league that would be neither surprising nor particularly good news. For those of you familiar with the fortunes of our Fighting Felines over the past pair of seasons know that for the Cats it was both. The Celtics continued their frenzied efforts to bury Charlotte, but couldn’t. The Bobcats, all but legendary for their ability to lay bricks in the third quarter of close games, found ways to keep pouring in the points despite having an atrocious night at the free throw line. Just after the midpoint of the quarter, that nasty tendency finally caught up with the Cats. Mullie missed a pair from the stripe, dropping the team to 6 for 14, and the Celtics exploded with a beastly run that took the teams from an iffy six-to-eight point spread out to a fifteen-point borderline blowout. The Cats were in trouble. Henderson stopped the bleeding with a trey, but it was merely a band-aid on a spurting artery. Paul Pierce sank a trey of his own from somewhere near Martha’s Vineyard, and the lead grew to 18 points. A suddenly panicky Bobcats crew began taking 25 seconds to find a shot and the men in green started sharing knowing and confident looks. With Miami next up for the Celts, they could ill afford another confidence-shaking loss or narrow escape at the paws of the Clawing Cats.
Byron Mullens efforts to shoot through his recent slump finally began to bear some fruit. He holed a contested jump shot and then hit a wide open three moments later and you could almost see his confidence meter filling up. The one scoring flurry the took the Celtics out to their eighteen-point lead was all it took however to make one of the best Bobcats efforts of the season appear to be a typical collapse to anyone glancing at the scoreboard at the numbers as quarter three drew to a close. The Bobcats headed into the final frame down 83-66.
One minute into the fourth a Celtics trey from so far away that Jason Terry had to dial “1” before shooting it brought the lead to 22 points and an extremely obese lady stepped up to the microphone set up in the Promenade. McRoberts slammed home consecutive dunks and Ms. Big-Thang had to sit back down, however briefly. Although anything resembling a team effort largely vanished, the individual Bobcats continued to fight hard and work on their individual games. Pargo made up for an errant pass to Dell Curry by sinking a beautiful rainbow-arc trey on the next possession. McRoberts continued to put in a first class effort at both ends with blocks, boards, and beastly dunks. Before I could finish typing the last sentence Pargo drained yet another three to climb into double-digit scoring. It isn’t often a man has cause to smile during a big loss, but in this case I think we should let it go by. He’s escaped from purgatory and has one more chance to build a career doing what he loves. It’s one of the things that make this game so great. The efforts of the Cats were not lost on Doc Rivers either. As the Cats shaved the lead from 21 down to 13, the Celtics Coach informed his starters that it wasn’t “chill time” just yet and brought them back into the game. While I typed the sentence Pargo added yet another trey, his fourth of the night, which pulled him into a tie with Gerald Henderson for the game’s high scorer with 16 for the night. It was all in vain when it came to salvaging the victory of course, but it was something to see. In fact, he also proved to be one of the few Bobcats to be able to hit a free throw, adding a pair in the closing moments to secure his spot as the top scorer in the game.