After clawing their way back from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit, the Charlotte Bobcats held a lead over the Atlanta Hawks entering the final half-minute of the fourth quarter on Monday night. Mike Budenholzer's playoff-bound Hawks found one last bit of inspiration, though, tightening defensively to influence Bobcats guard Gary Neal into a wild desperation jumper that went awry, giving Atlanta the opportunity to tie the game ... which they did, thanks to a simple but sharp bit of pick-and-roll basketball that saw rookie center Mike Muscala create enough room for jitterbug scoring guard Lou Williams to get into a wide-open space at the left elbow and pop a jumper that knotted things up at 93 with 2.6 seconds remaining.
With one chance to beat the buzzer and secure a big late-season road win, you might've expected Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford to draw up a final shot for his big fella, center Al Jefferson. Well, if that's the case, you were probably surprised by what wound up happening, too:
As forward Josh McRoberts prepared to trigger the inbounds pass, Bobcats guard Luke Ridnour cut from the left corner up toward the 3-point arc around a left-elbow screen by Jefferson, running around the arc to the right corner, while Gary Neal set a quick off-ball screen along the right block for Chris Douglas-Roberts before cutting up and curling around Jefferson en route to the left corner. As Neal streaked to the left corner, Atlanta forward Mike Scott, who had been guarding the inbounds pass, moved away from the ball to track Neal while defender Shelvin Mack recovered to Neal; that gave McRoberts a clean line of sight to pick out Douglas-Roberts, cutting from the baseline up to the top of the key around a right-elbow screen from Jefferson, as a landing spot to put the ball in play.
Douglas-Roberts made the catch and headed straight for the rim, splitting between a backtracking Scott and a trailing Williams, and staring at Muscala as he took a step inside the left elbow. With the clock ticking down, one Hawk in front of him and two closing in on him, Douglas-Roberts let loose a flailing floater that arced up and in with no time remaining on the clock. Just as he did against the Brooklyn Nets a couple of weeks back, CDR hit the dagger that propelled the Bobcats to an at-one-time improbable win, sealing a 95-93 victory and ensuring that Charlotte (42-39) will finish above .500 for just the second time in franchise history.
Douglas-Roberts finished with five points on 2 for 3 shooting, two rebounds, one steal and one assist in 23 minutes of play. Noted paint purveyor Jefferson led the way with a game-high 27 points on 11 for 17 shooting to go with 15 rebounds, but it was Neal and Ridnour, a pair of midseason additions from the Milwaukee Bucks, who saved the Bobcats' bacon with big performances off the bench.
Neal chipped in 17 points on 5 for 11 shooting off the pine, while Ridnour added 10 points and four assists in 23 minutes. Twenty of those 27 points came in the fourth quarter, with all 10 of Ridnour's coming in the first six minutes of the frame, as an all-reserve Bobcats unit ripped off a 19-4 run to erase the 80-65 lead the Hawks held after three. Those contributions were particularly huge for Charlotte on a night where the starting backcourt of Kemba Walker (just back from his groin injury) and Gerald Henderson put up a combined nine points on 2 for 18 shooting. (Walker did add seven assists with just one turnover, and Henderson did chip in five rebounds and three assists, for what it's worth.)
The win keeps alive the Bobcats' hopes of overcoming the Washington Wizards for the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, if only barely. The sixth-place Wiz knocked off the resting Miami Heat on Monday, which both sewed up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the Indiana Pacers and kept 43-38 Washington one game ahead of the seventh-seeded Bobcats. If the Wizards win their season finale against the all-over-but-the-shoutin' Boston Celtics on Wednesday, they'll lock up the No. 6 spot and avoid the Heat; if the Wizards lose to the Celtics and the Bobcats can beat the Chicago Bulls in their season-ender, Charlotte will take over No. 6 by virtue of winning their season series with Washington three games to one.
Scott led six Hawks in double figures with 20 points and six rebounds, but he shot just 8 for 23 from the floor, which was about par for the course on a night where Atlanta struggled from the field (43 percent as team) and especially from 3-point land (8 for 30 total) without resting starters Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll. Jeff Teague celebrated his Eastern Conference Player of the Week win by scoring 11 points on 4 for 6 shooting with five assists and four rebounds for the Hawks, who are locked into a first-round matchup with the top-seeded Pacers.
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