Bobcats 104, Hornets 103
NEW ORLEANS (AP)
Shortly after congratulating the current Louisiana state champions from his old high school, Augustin hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, including one with 16 seconds left to give Charlotte the lead for good in a dramatic 104-103 victory over the Hornets on Wednesday night.
That secured the first playoff berth for the Bobcats, in their sixth year since joining the NBA and first with Michael Jordan as their majority owner.
``Great year,'' Augustin said. ``The Bobcats have never made the playoffs and it's historic. But we want to stay focused and get ready for the playoffs and try to go farther than just the first round.''
Stephen Jackson scored 29 points for Charlotte, which blew a 26-point lead and trailed by as much as eight in the fourth quarter.
Bobcats coach Larry Brown termed the Bobcats' victory, ``a miracle.''
``I'm not a happy man,'' Brown said, more annoyed about the blown lead than pleased by the late rally. ``I'm happy for our fans. I'm happy for our franchise. I'm a coach. I always say, 'Celebrate the wins because the losses hurt.' That (performance) hurt.''
New Orleans' last lead was 100-99 after Darren Collison's driving layup with 44 seconds to go. Neither team scored again until Augustin's big 3.
Collison had a chance to tie it, but his leaner in a crowd of defenders in the lane missed in the final seconds. Raymond Felton made a pair of free throws before Marcus Thornton, who had 36 points, hit a meaningless 3 as time expired.
``We were just trying to get an easy basket, either me or David West,'' Collison said of his late miss. ``The ball was in my hand and I tried to make an aggressive play to the basket and I came up short.''
In the process, the Hornets came up short in what would have been the greatest comeback in franchise history. Instead, their 22-point comeback against Boston in November 1995 remains a franchise best.
Tyson Chandler had 16 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots in his return to New Orleans for the first time since being traded to Charlotte in exchange for Emeka Okafor. Okafor had seven points and nine rebounds.
``It definitely feels good,'' said Chandler, who was popular in New Orleans and was cheered during introductions. ``It felt like coming back home, honestly. A lot of familiar faces in the stands. Obviously familiar faces on the other side. It was good to come back and get a win.
``I'm starting to feel like my old self,'' the 7-foot-1 center added. ``I went through the season recovering from last season's injuries. Now I'm starting to feel like I'm 100 percent.''
Augustin finished with 14 points to the delight of his fans from Brother Martin High School.
``It feels good, those guys looking up to me,'' Augustin said. ``A lot of them were at my camp. ... Hopefully they'll be back this summer.''
Felton had 12 and Boris Diaw 10 for the Bobcats.
Collison had 24 points and nine assists for the Hornets. David West added 13 points.
Charlotte led by 22 to start the second half, and with Toronto's loss to Boston needed only to protect that lead to secure the first playoff berth for the franchise, which filled the void left by the Hornets' move from Charlotte to New Orleans in 2002.
Instead, the Bobcats fell apart and were outscored 40-19 in the third quarter, with the Hornets' rookie backcourt of Collison and Thornton doing most of the damage.
Collison had 12 points in the period and Thornton eight. New Orleans closed the quarter on a 14-2 run, with Collison's 18-foot jumper cutting Charlotte's lead to 79-78.
Thornton then opened the fourth quarter with an aggressive driving dunk along the baseline that sent the crowd into a frenzy, and New Orleans held a slim lead much of the period, going up by as much as 97-89 on James Posey's transition 3 from the left wing with 3:44 to go.
Charlotte stormed back to tie it with an 8-0 run, highlighted by Gerald Wallace's layup as he was fouled and Augustin's 3 with 2:17 left.
Charlotte dominated the first half, scoring 14 straight from late in the first quarter until Derrick Brown's free throws in the second period, which gave the Bobcats a 36-21 lead.
The Bobcats led by 22 on Chandler's putback. Soon after, Chandler blocked West twice, the second time forcing a jump ball.
Hornets coach Jeff Bower was furious that no foul was called on Chandler and stomped onto the court to argue, drawing a pair of technical fouls from official Bob Delaney, the second triggering an automatic ejection.
The Hornets were 4 of 18 during the second quarter and trailed 55-29 after Jackson's fast-break dunk. The Bobcats led 60-38 at halftime.
NOTES: Hornets assistant Paul Pressey took over after Bower was ejected. ... Thornton has scored 20 or more 19 times this season, the most by a rookie not selected in the first round since Dino Radja did it 23 times during the 1993-94 season for the Boston Celtics. ... Chandler entered the game averaging 6.3 points and 6.2 rebounds.