Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty Images
Ray Allen hit the dramatic, game-winning 3-pointer as time expired to push his Celtics past the Bobcats, 96-95.
CHARLOTTE, N.C., Nov. 24 (AP) -- While winning has become routine for the new-look Boston Celtics, this victory was different. It had the players huddled around the locker room TV, giggling like school kids as they watched it again.
And the replay was just as sweet.
"Ahhhhhhh,'' Paul Pierce said as the replay showed Allen's ball go through the net. "That's incredible. Just incredible.''
If there's any doubt Boston is ready to put their struggles of recent years in the past, this was another indication.
The leprechaun returned to the Celtics' side.
Allen had missed 11 of his previous 14 shots in a flat performance for the Celtics, yet hit nothing but net on the jumper from the left wing, setting off a wild celebration for the Celtics, who won their third straight game and improved to 11-1.
"The minute Eddie touched the ball, it was like everything went into slow motion,'' Allen said. "The ball just came in the air in slow motion. The rest is history.''
Pierce scored 23 points and Kevin Garnett had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics, who had gone more than 3 minutes without scoring until Allen's bucket.
"Give a shooter enough chances and eventually one will fall,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Richardson had 25 points and Raymond Felton had 18 points and nine assists for the Bobcats, who lost their third straight.
"We handed them the game,'' Richardson said. "Stupid turnover on my behalf. I lost this game for my teammates.''
A night after the Celtics cruised past the Los Angeles Lakers amid hype in Boston over a possible renewal of their 1980s rivalry, the Celtics had little energy against the fourth-year Bobcats, who were playing without injured top scorer Gerald Wallace.
With Allen struggling, they trailed at halftime for only the second time and the first since their lone loss to Orlando. Boston was down by five early in the fourth quarter, and made key mistakes down the stretch.
Down 95-93, Rajon Rondo threw the ball away with 1:12 left.
Felton had his shot blocked at the other end, but Pierce missed a straightaway 3-pointer. Felton lost the ball on the ensuing possession, leading to a shot clock violation with 16.6 seconds left.
Pierce then missed a foul-line jumper. The Celtics committed a foul, but were not over the limit. That forced Richardson to inbounds from the sideline in the backcourt.
"We were just trying to force somebody to catch it so we could foul,'' said House, a former Bobcat. "We were denying and it was close to 5 seconds. Richardson started leaning. I left Felton because he tossed it in the air. I just got my hand on it.''
The ball landed in Pierce's hands. He found Allen, who never hesitated despite his subpar night.
"I had some toilet bowl shots. They went in and came back out. They went around the rim,'' Allen said. "I knew I was right there. It's not like it's not on.''
There was a brief pause in the Celtics' celebration, as officials watched the replay, but Allen released the ball well before the buzzer.
Allen finished with 14 points on 4-of-15 shooting. The game-winning 3 was his only make in six 3-point attempts, and it spoiled an impressive performance by Bobcats rookie Jared Dudley. The former Boston College star had 11 points and nine rebounds filling in for Wallace.
Wallace played only 12 minutes in Charlotte's loss to Orlando on Friday after straining his right calf. He underwent an MRI Saturday afternoon. When the Bobcats found out about 45 minutes before tipoff that the results were negative, Wallace was inserted into the starting lineup.
But Wallace had discomfort warming up, and Dudley replaced him at small forward, assigned to Pierce.
Dudley held his own early, as the Bobcats used runs of 13-0 and 8-2 to take a 53-48 halftime lead.
There were nine lead changes in the third quarter, before the Bobcats went ahead 85-80 with 9:03 left behind 3-pointers from Matt Carroll and Richardson.
"We played against a very tough team, a team with three All-Stars,'' Bobcats coach Sam Vincent said. "We just didn't capitalize at the end.''
The Celtics, who shot only 44 percent and were outrebounded 41-34, did.
"Somehow we snagged it from them,'' Pierce said. "Wow. That's all I can say.''
Notes: Celtics G Tony Allen left in the second quarter with a bruised right thigh and did not return. ... While an MRI on Bobcats C Ryan Hollins' injured left shoulder came back negative, he did not play and his arm was in a sling. ... The Bobcats had their first sellout of the season. ... Saxophonist Branford Marsalis performed the national anthem.