CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—Emeka Okafor left the court for the final time as a rookie without his shirt or shoes, everything given away to the fans who cheered the Charlotte Bobcats on to a victory in their season finale.
Okafor had 16 points and 19 rebounds as Bobcats closed out their inaugural season with a victory, snapping the Detroit Pistons’ 11-game winning streak with a 97-86 win Wednesday night.
“It’s just great to go home like this, with a win and on a good note,” Okafor said. “We didn’t win a lot of games this year, but we played hard in all of them and it’s great to get a reward in the last one.”
Actually, the Bobcats won more games than anyone predicted. They finished 18-64, equaling the number of wins Orlando had in 1989-90 and bettering the first-year marks of Vancouver, Miami and Dallas.
Charlotte won four season series, including the three-game set against the Pistons. Charlotte went 2-1 against the defending NBA champions.
“They did a lot better than people expected,” Detroit forward Tayshaun Prince said. “I feel the main reason is because they played hard. Everybody in the league knows that no matter what the score is, Charlotte plays hard regardless.”
Okafor, in a close race with Chicago sixth-man Ben Gordon for the NBA’s rookie of the year award, ended his bid with his 47th double-double of the season.
“I’m glad this game is over,” said Detroit coach Larry Brown. “We start a new season now, and hopefully we’ll approach it the same we did last year.”
Detroit, the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, will face Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs.
Long after their own game was over, Brown, Richard Hamilton and other members of the Pistons staff sat around a television in the tunnel of the Charlotte Coliseum watching the Bulls play the Pacers.
“Man, this is a war,” Hamilton said. “It’s going to the end.”
Brown stayed until the start of the fourth quarter, then headed to the bus.
“I can’t take it anymore,” he grumbled.
The Bobcats played with one eye on the out-of-town scoreboard because Charlotte holds Cleveland’s first-round draft pick, a lottery pick because New Jersey beat Boston on Wednesday night to end the Cavs’ playoff bid.
“This win, the fans, getting that lottery pick … we deserved something good to happen to us,” Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff said.
The game also marked the final NBA game in the Charlotte Coliseum, which opened in 1988 for the Hornets and was filled to capacity night after night as the team led the league in attendance for seven consecutive seasons.
But the Bobcats will move into a new $265 million arena next fall and abandon the outdated Coliseum. After receiving a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of the game, the Bobcats marked the occasion with a tribute video to the fans, then returned to the court to hand out jerseys, shoes and hats to selected fans.
The Pistons placed Hamilton on the injured list before the game with a facial laceration. … Detroit forward Rasheed Wallace did not play because of a strained hamstring. … The Bobcats turned the game into Fan Appreciation Night, giving away $200,000 in prizes throughout the game, including a new Mercedes and a trip to the Bahamas. … With Charlotte center Primoz Brezec in street clothes with a sprained ankle, he had plenty of time to check on the scores of the Nets and Cavaliers games during timeouts.