One thing the Bobcats were not last night was intimidated. Not by the record, not by the winning streak, not by the home crowd, and most certainly not by the Celtics’ suddenly vaunted defense.
As we learned in last year’s playoff series between Golden State and Dallas, some teams simply match up well against others. Charlotte certainly has played Golden State to Boston’s Dallas this year, pushing the Celtics to, and now beyond, the brink in their two meetings this season.
Charlotte played hungry last night, attacking the basket, the boards, and sub-par Celtics one-on-one defense from the game’s start. Rarely have teams so handily outscored the Celtics in the paint this season, but a couple key factors attributed to the 42-28 disparity that the Bobcats enjoyed.
For one, Ray Allen’s defense-stretching presence was gone, and the Bobcats responded by clogging the lane, even more so with poor three-point shooting nights from by Pierce and House. On the Charlotte side, Wallace, Richardson, and (surprisingly) Mohammed found themselves with numerous opportunities to finish in and around the rim. Mohammed’s activity on the offensive glass helped the Bobcats keep any Celtics momentum surges at bay in the second half.
The Celtics failed to find an offensive rhythm beyond the first quarter, struggling to fill the gap left by the sidelined Allen and the ice-cold Pierce. Gone were the easy baskets for Davis and Perkins we have become so accustomed to seeing. Without Ray Allen to work off of, Charlotte’s defense was rarely forced to scramble in rotation, eliminating the passing lanes that KG so masterfully utilizes.
The Celtics, instead, settled for far too many jump shots, resulting in only 42% shooting from the floor. Pierce, who I had expected to pick up the scoring slack vacated by Ray, especially underperformed, failing to work himself into the game by attacking the rim once it was clear his jumper wasn’t falling. Perhaps some of his slow offensive night can be attributed to the effort he exerted (unsuccessfully) in chasing an unfathomably hot-shooting J-Rich around the court, but not all of it.
In a season where the Celtics had yet to beat themselves, this game may have been their closest attempt. The Bobcats were feisty enough for Rivers to comment that they outplayed the C’s on nearly every front, but a number of Celtics second half turnovers definitely helped Charlotte keep a cushion.
I came away from the game with a realization that seems so obvious, but is so easily forgotten until you are faced with it: health is the biggest factor in a team’s success. You need only look at the Lakers this year compared to last to realize it. They sported a nearly identical record last year at this point as they do now, but last year’s hot start was undermined by injuries to Odom and Walton. A long-term injury to Allen, Garnett, or Pierce would surely carry the same result.
Thankfully, the injuries to both Ray Allen and Glen Davis are minor. But the fallibility of a 29-4 record never became more apparent to me than after last night’s loss. If there is any good to be taken from the game, it is that all teams have such games, the good ones simply rebound from them better than the bad.
And what better way to rebound than against the Nets, the Wizards, and the Wizards?