Benjamin Swanson owes me lovely, succulent, American wings, and you are all my witnesses.
At half time, Ben and I made a bet in which the winner would be entitled to a round of wings at the other's expense. The terms were simple. If the Bobcats' 2 point deficit at the half became a 16 point or more deficit at the end of the 3rd, he won. Otherwise I won.
So I won. (Obviously)
What made me take the under? The Bobcats were playing inspired basketball, and the Celtics were just screwing around. Their effort on both ends was the best I've seen in weeks, and I was convinced that they'd maintain that level of energy.
Overall, the Bobcats played the best they could against a hot Celtics team that has now won four of their last five. They were hustling on defense (bad rotations aside) and making the right passes. They fought until the end, led by (yes, led by) Derrick Brown.
Unfortunately, the Celtics are a much, much better team. Renowned for their defensive consistency and offensive execution, the Celtics offered a rather haphazard performance by their standards. That was enough to beat the Bobcats.
The Bobcats tried to get the ball inside early, but the Celtics were able to get a hand on every pass and either forced a turnover or deflected the ball out of bounds. However, the Bobcats soon figured out a way to get the ball inside: lob it. The Celtics are not an athletic team, and not particularly long. This afforded the Bobcats several alley-oops and put-backs once they realized their advantage.
But being the great defensive team that they are, the Celtics adjusted. This was both a curse and a gift to the Bobcats, who forced some bad passes initially but soon adjusted to the Celtics' fronting in the paint. They started hitting jumpers in turn, thanks to Gerald Henderson and Reggie Williams. The Celtics were momentarily confused (as was I), and let a rather large lead dwindle to two points at the half.
Henderson and Derrick Brown were absolutely stellar tonight. Henderson scored in every way imaginable, giving his supporters tons of ammunition to use against his detractors. He hit jumpers, made layups, scored in the post, got to the line, and even dunked. He finished with 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting, along with 3 assists and a steal. Derrick Brown did his Derrick Brown impression. He scored incredibly efficiently (16 points on only 6 shots), had SEVEN assists, and played terrific defense. He was undoubtedly the Bobcats' emotional leader tonight, with a prime example coming in the 3rd quarter. Brown exploded past Pierce on the baseline, but was hacked by Paul Pierce and Greg Stiemsma. He hit the ground hard. No call. Next play? Exploded to the basket and tried to dunk on Stiemsma, forcing a foul. Great to see from a team that isn't known for effort.
The Bobcats' point guards were invisible (combined 1 of 13 from the field, 7 of 10 from the line, 8 assists and 6 turnovers). Both were noticeably bothered by Rajon Rondo's length and quickness, whom at one point had three deflections in one play. Augustin couldn't pass the ball. He was just too small. Kemba didn't do much better, however he was able to set his team mates up for shots due to his speed coming off of picks.
Byron Mullens' game wasn't as good as you'd think. Sure, he scored 18 points. But it took him 18 shots. Sure, he had 7 boards to Kevin Garnett's 4. But he allowed the 35 year-old to score 24 points. Mullens doesn't have a morsel of defensive ability in his body. Don't be fooled by his blocks. He's long, not aware. Don't be fooled by his point totals. He's a volume scorer.
While the Bobcats and Celtics' statistics are similar (42% to 45%, 21 rebounds to 16, 12 turnovers to 10), what decided this game was free throws and more specifically, Paul Pierce's. Pierce got to the line 18 times, making 15 of his free throws. The rest of his stat line is just as incredible. 36 points on 50% shooting. 10 rebounds. 4 assists. 3 steals. 3 blocks. Historically, the Bobcats were able to put Gerald Wallace on Pierce to limit him. They have no such luxury this year.
Despite the loss, the Bobcats showed some consistency and glimpses of what looks to be a brighter future. Henderson is not "there" yet, but he's slowly developing into a legitimate starting shooting guard and a good offensive option. The Bobcats were able to keep a game against a good team close without adequate minutes from some of their best players (Corey Maggette, Bismack Biyombo). They have some pieces that need to be further evaluated. They're not as bad as any of us thought a few months ago. They're still bad. They're just not that bad.
Only 20 games left, folks. Let's keep moving forward, even if it is at a drudgingly slow pace.