It was another blowout, but this time it was the Bobcats on the winning end for a change.
Gerald Henderson's hot hand carried Charlotte through the first three quarters and his teammates blew open the game in the fourth to secure the team's 14th win, 100-74.
The Bobcats got off to a fast start with an 8-0 run, but fast starts for Charlotte often are replaced in quick succession by large deficits this season. Despite digging themselves an early hole, the Celtics were able to take the lead with a little over four minutes off an Avery Bradley trey in the first quarter. We've seen it plenty of times this year where Charlotte keeps it close in the first quarter only to be down double digits by halftime.
That wouldn't be the case tonight.
With the team trailing by one after his 11-point first quarter, Henderson refused to let the Bobcats repeat familiar habits as he carried the offense with 10 more points in the second. With Kemba Walker struggling, it became apparent early on that Henderson would have to keep up his stellar play. Even with the Bobcats receiving a terrific offensive performance from Henderson, it was Ben Gordon who kept his team close to the Celtics early in the second. Gordon delivered seven points in the first six minutes of the second quarter before Henderson would take over the final six of the half.
The result was a 49-46 halftime lead in which a Paul Pierce-less Boston squad lacked energy. Normally the team would look to Kevin Garnett to provide intensity, but he looked his age Tuesday night, finishing 2-of-10 from the floor, only scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds.
While Boston looked old, tired and slow throughout the game, Charlotte looked the exact opposite. Walker had a rough night shooting the ball, but he had no problem providing a ton of energy. That hustle was also shown by the rest of the starting five, especially Josh McRoberts, who finished with his first double-double this season (13 points, 10 boards).
Though many considered him as an afterthought when he was swapped for Hakim Warrick at the deadline, McRoberts has shown he can provide quality minutes at power forward. His effort helped the Bobcats get off to a fast start at the beginning of the second half. After securing a defensive rebound on the ensuing offensive trip, he boarded a Henderson miss and put it back for two points, only to hit a trey on the next trip down to give Charlotte an eight-point lead.
From there Henderson, who would finish with a career-high 35 points, continued to put the Bobcats on his back. He finished with double-digit scoring for the third straight quarter. Five of his 10 third quarter points came at the free throw line, a place where he was quite comfortable as he finished the game a perfect 12-for-12.
It may have been easy for the Bobcats on the offensive end for most of the night, especially the second half. But for the Celtics, it was where the game got away. With KG struggling and no Pierce, Boston found itself relying heavily on role players like Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee. Jason Terry was also a non factor off the bench in what has been a rather up-and-down first year in a Celtics uniform for him. Jordan Crawford had a nice offensive game finishing with 14 points, but nobody else followed his lead.
After a Walker spit a pair of free throws to end the scoring in the third, the Bobcats had a 76-61 lead. It seemed like a situation heading into the fourth when fans would expect another collapse. This game had a different feel. You could tell that the entire Celtics team wasn't physically or mentally into the game. With Doc Rivers already getting rest for Pierce, it seemed possible that if Charlotte could add to the lead early in the fourth, he would call off the dogs. And that's exactly what he did.
A McRoberts dunk, and a Gordon layup and trey later, Rivers took out KG and Green in favor of Shavlik Randolph and D.J. White with 10:02 in the final quarter and the Bobcats leading by 20. Another fourth quarter blown lead was not in the cards Tuesday night. No, it was a time for the players and fans to enjoy a fourth quarter well out of reach, but this time in favor of the Bobcats.
These two teams will meet again on Saturday in Boston and it may very well end up in a blowout in favor of the Celtics, but for tonight it's the Bobcats who were (once again) on top.