Bobcats 104, Hornets 103

D.J. Augustin’s clutch shooting, so familiar to basketball fans
in his hometown of New Orleans, sent the Charlotte Bobcats into
uncharted territory: the NBA playoffs.

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.