CHARLOTTE — The Celtics’ locker room was eerily silent after their 94-91 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, the last-minute defeat just adding to the pain from yet another potentially serious injury.
After the Celtics dusted themselves off following season-ending injuries to Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger and ran off seven straight wins, they were seemingly on their way to No. 8 when backup guard Leandro Barbosa went down with a significant knee injury in the final seconds of the third quarter.
Barbosa drove to the basket against Charlotte’s Ramon Sessions and apparently twisted his left leg while dribbling. Writhing in pain, he passed the ball, hopping on one leg and then fell into the photographers’ area and couldn’t get up on his own.
He was carried to the locker room by rookie center Fab Melo and head trainer Ed Lacerte. Although the team simply called it a left knee injury and said he would receive an MRI Tuesday, Kevin Garnett let on that it was much more serious.
“We got the news when we came in the locker room,” Garnett said. “It’s tough all the way around. You mesh with these guys and all of a sudden you see a season-ending injury. It’s tough. We’re grinding right now on top of a back-to-back emotional game.
“The blow of Barbosa is kind of the fog or the cloud that’s in the room right now.”
When asked if he was told Barbosa’s season was over, Garnett said, “Pretty much.”
Teammate Courtney Lee wasn’t so sure about Barbosa.
“We’re not sure what he has,” Lee said. “Hopefully he’ll be fine.’’
The injury comes at a time in which Barbosa was flourishing off the bench, averaging 9 points and 2.6 assists in the previous five games.
If Barbosa is out for the season, the Celtics are expected to pursue another backcourt player. As of now, Avery Bradley, Lee and Jason Terry are their only guards.
After watching their teammate go down, the Celtics made a fourth-quarter push and were perhaps a play or two from sealing their eighth straight win. A 10-0 run early in the fourth quarter gave Boston an 82-77 lead, but the Bobcats rallied back.
Gerald Henderson’s layup at the 3:58 mark gave the Bobcats an 85-84 lead, but the Celtics again struck back behind a 3-pointer from Terry and a spinning turnaround jumper from Garnett over Bismack Biyombo.
Garnett added the Celtics’ final basket with a looping stepback jumper for a 91-87 lead with 2:14 left. Boston missed its final six shots, including 3-pointers by Paul Pierce and Bradley that would have tied the score in the final 10 seconds.
The Celtics were obviously fatigued after their triple-overtime victory Sunday over the Denver Nuggets, but they fully realized this defeat was preventable. They were burned by 25 points and 18 rebounds from unheralded 7-foot forward Byron Mullens, who doubled his season averages in both categories.
Henderson also drained a 3-pointer off a fastbreak after the Celtics missed on two chances to build on a 4-point lead in the final two minutes.
And finally, when they needed a stop, Bradley tripped and twisted his ankle, allowing Sessions to make a wide-open 18-footer for the 92-91 lead with 25.7 seconds left.
“I didn’t think we did a good job of transition [defense],” Garnett said. “This is more mental than the physical. My hat goes off to them. They played well. I thought we set great picks, got the looks at it, should have did a little more time management. But like I said, I’m not going to take anything away from them. Charlotte played well, man, they beat us in transition.”
The Celtics basically controlled most of the game despite weary legs.
Charlotte never led by more than 5 points while the Celtics led by as many as 9 in the first half and by 6 at halftime.
The Bobcats scored 33 points in the third quarter, shooting 61.1 percent, and got 12 points from Mullens, a one-time project with the Oklahoma City Thunder who has turned himself into a perimeter threat.
He converted four 3-pointers, helping the Bobcats spread the floor.
“Tonight was a mentality game,” said forward Jeff Green, who led Boston with 18 points but had just 3 in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t get the stops. Guys had open shots. The transition three [by Henderson]. We were right there. At the end we still had great looks. We missed. But we gotta keep building.”