Class was in session Wednesday night at TD Garden.
The Charlotte Bobcats, a franchise with the worst winning percentage in NBA history, played the rare role of professor, a part unfamiliar to the league’s annual laughingstock.
The rebuilding Celtics were cast as the pupil — and by the end, they belonged in the corner, the dunce cap atop their heads.
“This was a great learning lesson, we got cocky with the four-game winning streak,” Celtics swingman Gerald Wallace said after that streak was snapped by Charlotte’s 89-83 win.
“Our confidence was up, we were feeling good about ourselves, and we just felt like we would show up tonight and playing the Bobcats, it’s an easy win. Like we don’t have to do nothing, not put forth effort. They turned on like a light switch and they came out to win the game.”
Wallace previously had criticized the Celtics’ effort after a few losses, saying the team played “selfish” and some players were more concerned with “padding stats.”
But the Celtics’ effort had picked up in their four games heading into Wednesday. They played hard from tipoff to the final buzzer and were able to squeak out wins.
That wasn’t the case against the Bobcats, who played harder than the Celtics (4-5) all night long.
“I don’t think we won one loose ball,” Wallace said. “I think they got all the offensive rebounds. All the plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet, they won, hands down, it wasn’t even close.”
From the start, the Celtics, who were led by Jeff Green’s 19 points, were behind, as the Bobcats (4-4) hit nine of their first 11 shots and raced to a 16-point lead in the second quarter.
The Celtics, meanwhile, shot 8 of 22 in the first quarter and, for consistency’s sake, remained awful the rest of the night, shooting 38 percent overall.
“The way we started, we just missed shots and we allowed it to affect us on the defensive end,” Green said.
But they had little urgency, and several Celtics again used the term “lackadaisical” after the game, a word already uttered plenty in their locker room this season.
“We were moving the ball, but it was like we were cool moving the ball,” Wallace said. “Like it was going to come to us easy — ‘all we gotta do is turn it on at any minute and win this game.’ It was like we were just chilling.”
One might glance at the box score and say it was as simple as too many missed shots.
“But I thought it was a lot deeper than that,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
“I thought they were just quicker to the basketball all night, in every which way, and I thought they did a great job right out of the gate establishing a tone of the way the game was going to be played and it was hard for us to manage that as we moved forward.”
He added, “There are certain games where you feel like the other team has got you in a little bit of a stranglehold, and it’s going to be hard to overcome it because of the way the game was going.
“And [that’s] kind of what the game was telling you at the start of the game. That’s the way it was; they had their way most of the night. They were very good.”
The Celtics never led and played uphill all night, trying (and failing) to claw back. The Bobcats helped the Celtics’ efforts, shooting just 30 percent (19 of 64) in the last three quarters.
But any time the Celtics came within range, the Bobcats answered, including when the Celtics cut Charlotte’s lead to 85-83 with 32.5 seconds left.
The Celtics then gave up a layup and turned it over on the possession after that, a sequence that they had virtually repeated at any point when they had come close.
Perhaps it was just a bad game, one to be quickly erased from the memory banks.
“Nah, they beat us with effort,” said guard Jordan Crawford, who had 16 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. “They beat us on the loose balls, all the rebounds, and they started off better. It’s not just one to throw away. It’s one to look at and see where we can be better from.”
Forward Jared Sullinger was absent with a bone bruise in his right knee, and the team could’ve used his rebounding on the offensive glass, as the Bobcats held a 14-8 edge in second-change points.
“But it’s not an excuse,” Stevens said.
Five Bobcats scored in double figures, led by 22 points from former Celtics center Al Jefferson, who also grabbed 11 rebounds while notching his first win against the Celtics since he was traded away in 2007.
“They played hard,” Crawford said. “I think that’s one of the harder teams we’ve played this year. It’s good to play them to see how hard we’ve got to go now.”
Indeed, it is a lesson, but it’s curious why these star-less Celtics would need one when it comes to effort.
“We can’t take anyone lightly, regardless of who they are,” Wallace said. “We have to understand this is the NBA, those guys play just like we play. They are fortunate to be in this league. And it’s always hard to win; anyone is capable of winning on any night.”
But Wallace said it was a loss that the Celtics needed.
“I think the best thing you can do is what we did tonight: that was get our tail kicked on all aspects of the game, learn from it and understand, we have to take this seriously, we have to come out every night prepared to play and prepared to win,” he said.
The Celtics get another crack at it Friday, when they close out a three-game homestand against the Trailblazers. That game will mark the first of a home-road back-to-back set, as the Celtics play at Minnesota the following day.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.