Paul Pierce scored 35 points and hit the clinching jumper in the final minute to lead the Celtics to their fifth straight win, 106-100 over the Bobcats on Saturday night.
Pierce hit the go-ahead free throws with 2:06 left and a fadeaway 17-footer with 39 seconds remaining, part of a 10-0 run to give the Celtics a 102-97 lead.
Al Jefferson added 22 points for the Celtics, who won despite losing Wally Szczerbiak to a sprained ankle in the third quarter. It’s Boston’s longest winning streak since it won seven straight in March 2005.
“I’ve always felt we were right there. We believed it,” said Pierce, who scored 30 or more points for the third time in four games. “Things that were beating us up before—lack of defense, lack of execution—is what’s winning it for us now. We’re solving those problems.”
Gerald Wallace scored 31 points and Emeka Okafor added 12 points, 19 rebounds and tied his own team record with eight blocks for the Bobcats, who failed again to win consecutive games for the first time this season.
It was the same old problem for the Bobcats, who couldn’t find a player to make a big shot down the stretch. Charlotte went more than 3 minutes without scoring after building a 97-92 lead with 3:48 left. Wallace and Adam Morrison had turnovers on back-to-back possessions in the drought.
“We get turnovers on our possessions and they get free throws or easy baskets on their possessions,” said Wallace, who hadn’t scored more than 21 points in an injury-plagued season. “I wish I had taken that lost shot (instead of his bad pass). I take full responsibility.”
Both teams lost key reserves to sprained ankles.
Szczerbiak had to be helped to the locker room late in the third quarter after he injured his ankle while committing a foul.
“It hurts more than the last one,” said Szczerbiak, who missed five games with a sprained left ankle.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Szczerbiak could be out until after the team’s long road trip near the end of the month.
“If I were a betting man, I’d say we wouldn’t have him on the West Coast trip,” Rivers said.
Charlotte’s Sean May, who scored a career-high 32 points in the Bobcats’ win over Orlando on Thursday, came down awkwardly on the back of Okafor’s foot during a battle for a defensive rebound early in the second quarter. He immediately hobbled to the locker room and did not return.
“The good thing about it was as soon as it happened I got all my weight off of it,” said May, who was on crutches as he left the arena. “That probably saved me a few weeks right there. It got really swollen.”
The Bobcats, who also played without starting point guard Brevin Knight (strained groin), were outscored 25-7 immediately after May left to close the quarter as the Celtics took a 10-point halftime lead.
Pierce tipped in a miss to start the third quarter to give Boston a 62-50 lead.
The Bobcats responded with a 16-3 run as Wallace scored six points and Okafor blocked three shots.
Charlotte built an 84-78 lead early in the fourth quarter, but unlike last month when coach Doc Rivers ripped his team in a loss in Charlotte, the Celtics recovered.
Boston, which won its fourth straight road game, is the only team in the league with a winning road record (6-5) and a losing home mark (4-8).
“Of all the games, this is the one I’m most proud of,” Rivers said. “Our guys sucked it up and got it done.”
Rivers said he wouldn’t be surprised if it’s another two to three weeks before Philadelphia trades Allen Iverson. “It’s going to screw up a couple of teams,” Rivers said of the trade rumors. … Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff said they’ll likely recall rookie C Ryan Hollins from the NBDL when they play in Dallas on Dec. 26. Hollins, who has missed the past week with a mild ankle sprain, is averaging 12.2 points and 10.4 rebounds for Fort Worth. … Celtics F Ryan Gomes did not travel with the team due to a strained right calf. He’s expected to return for Wednesday’s game against Golden State.