Let's get the few negatives out of the way, first. Despite tomorrow's game at Cleveland, four guys played more than 40 minutes and DJ Augustin played 35. Raymond Felton turned the ball over 7(!) times. The bench crapped the bed as a group. Juwan Howard is lucky he didn't end Big Baby's career with a midair flagrant foul that, at first glance, made me think they'd eject the Last Standing Fab Fiver. Matt Carroll hustled once, and was otherwise a ball of suck.
Screw it all, though, 'cause I'm happy. Gerald Wallace had a monster first half, with 19 points, singlehandedly keeping the Bobcats step for step with the Celtics. Raymond Felton hit clutch shot after clutch shot, even after tweaking his ankle. Emeka Okafor continued his All Star-worthy campaign with 13 points and 17 rebounds. Augustin quietly came up with 20 points off the bench, mostly thanks to 12-12 on free throws. Morrison scored 13 points and looked as confident as he has in over a month, probably because he was playing without overthinking every damn movement. His bad foot fallaway was a work of art. Diaw struggled somewhat, going head to head with Kevin Garnett, but he still ended up with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists on 6-8 shooting.
And that leads us to the main reason the Bobcats stuck around and eventually pulled it off: Kevin Garnett just wasn't the monster force he was last year or in previous years, at least for a night... or maybe the past couple weeks. Pierce was Pierce. Allen was Allen. Rondo was Rondo. Perkins was Perkins. Garnett wasn't quite all there, possibly due to a sore calf.
Mad props to Hardwood Paroxysm for calling this in advance, and their reasoning makes some sense, in retrospect. One on one, Garnett is still doing his thing. Diaw has been on fire recently, so KG kept him to a reasonable line. But I suspect Gerald and Raymond went big in each half because Garnett just isn't that same deterring presence, anymore. The Celtics' floating zone is still ridiculously awesome, and KG's still suited to perform in it, but Raymond Felton is not Kobe Bryant. There's no reason Felton should have made as many layups as he did, and I think it's a slight crack in the armor that will be the Cs' final undoing, because while they're still the second or third best team in the East with a fading Garnett, that also would mean there are five or six Eastern teams that can beat them in a seven game series, as opposed to one or two.
At a certain point, too, there have to be diminishing returns on the Celtics' dirty play. As KG, et al, gain more and more notoriety for resorting to bear hugs, shoving, shoulder tackling on screens and such in the nitty gritty, officials will start to look for it more and more. As KG, et al, piss off more and more teams throughout the league with their jawing and hyperswagger, someone will shove back and they'll have to either lose face by backing off or risk pissing off the wrong person. The Howard-Davis incident was reprehensible, but there's no denying it upped the stakes. Raymond later got into a confrontation with Davis, and Pierce shoved Augustin in a third incident. Each of those two conflagrations energized the crowd and aroused the benches. Against the Bobcats in a regular season game, that sort of thing is just silly, but against a real title contender in the playoffs, that will be devastating.
So now it's off to Cleveland, where I hear they've got a pretty good young swingman who's turning heads these days. With no Zydrunas, the big men aren't going to be offensive forces. There's little chance the Cats prevail, but when the schedule makers came up with this cruel back to back, they couldn't have foreseen the Celtics' struggles at exactly this point, or Cleveland's losing two of their last three. Maybe Z's absence will be just what Charlotte needs to pull off the most enviable back to back sweep of the NBA's entire season.