CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Scores of seats were empty at tip-off, a sign that the locals won’t spend their time and money watching a train wreck. There was, however, plenty of green in the audience at Time Warner Cable Arena Tuesday. A sea of it, in fact.
And many of those donning Celtics gear walked out on their team early, refusing to spend another wasted second witnessing a disastrous, laughable, and thoroughly embarrassing performance against by far the worst team in all the NBA.
The Celtics sat out Paul Pierce to rest and then showed how vital their captain’s presence truly is after being destroyed by the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, 100-74.
The 26-point margin of victory was the largest of the season for the Bobcats, 10 points better than their previous largest win. It also snapped their 10-game losing skid.
But consider that the Bobcats entered the game having lost 45 of their last 51, having lost 10 games by an average margin of an eye-popping 21.5 points.
Given those atrocious numbers, it made sense that the Celtics would rest Pierce, who missed his first game of the season. After all, they could at least beat the Bobcats without him, right?
No. Instead, the Charlotte Bobcats made the Celtics look like the Charlotte Bobcats.
“The first two minutes we came out and we acted like we haven’t played together,” said Kevin Garnett, who struggled again with 5 points on 2-of-10 shooting.
It only got worse from there.
“It felt like we had a Band-Aid on a dam in the first half,” coach Doc Rivers said, “and then it came off and it just blew us open.”
The Bobcats led by 3 at halftime and then opened the third quarter on a 12-3 run to take control. With an array of fast-break dunks, wide-open shots, and other highlight-reel worthy plays, the rout was on — and the Celtics did nothing to stop it.
To wit: The Celtics shot 8 of 29 in the second half, scoring 28 points total. The Bobcats scored 27 points in the third quarter alone and led by as much as 28.
“They played so hard and we honestly couldn’t match how hard they played, for whatever reason,” Rivers said.
“That’s on me. It’s disappointing I couldn’t get that out of our guys, but we clearly could not. They were so much more competitive than us the entire night.”
Charlotte crushed the Celtics on the glass, out-rebounding them by 19, and Gerald Henderson scored a career-high 35 points.
“He had a great game,” Avery Bradley said. “We won’t let it happen again.”
The Celtics get another chance soon: They host the Bobcats Saturday night at TD Garden.
Rivers waved the white flag in the fourth quarter by inserting recent additions Terrence Williams, D.J. White, and Shavlik Randolph into the lineup, though none of them did any better or worse than their predecessors.
Before the game, Rivers said he didn’t like the look of his team. Something seemed off. His suspicions were confirmed fast, as the aggressors were clearly the Bobcats.
“I thought we were really cool tonight,” Rivers said, “and they were really hard.”
However, Rivers didn’t go overkill on his team’s awful performance.
“It’s one game. I’m not going to overdo it,” he said.
“Listen, we were awful tonight. Our spirit was awful. The way we played was awful. But we’ve also got to look at our team as a whole. We haven’t had a lot of nights like that. I’m not happy with the way the game went, but overall, I like our team.”
Before the game, the decision to rest a veteran player and start Jeff Green on the road against an awful team seemed like a good one, because the Celtics had done just that against Phoenix on Feb. 22 and cruised to an easy win.
Against the Suns, the Celtics rested Garnett and Green, making his first start, scored a season-high 31 points as Boston won by 25 points, its biggest win of the season.
However, Green didn’t have the same juice against Charlotte.
“Different team, different game,” he said after scoring 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting against the Bobcats.
This was the same Charlotte team that snapped a losing streak and ended a Celtics winning streak when it beat Boston, 94-91, here on Feb. 11.
Do the Celtics just not match up with this team?
“There’s definitely a presence,” Garnett said, “and they have a lot of confidence playing against us, and that’s just what it is.”
Rivers said he didn’t regret sitting Pierce.
“Definitely. Otherwise he’d have been part of that,” the coach joked. “What I was thinking was that I wish I had given Kevin the night off, too. That would’ve been terrific, because we would’ve had two guys get some rest.”
Said Green of Pierce: “If he’s out there or not, we’ve still got to make plays.”
As Pierce left the arena in sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt, he said to no one in particular, “The ghost is out.”
His words lingered in the air, leaving the impression that he’s the one Celtic this team truly cannot do without, not if it hopes to beat anyone, including those who hardly beat anyone.