Eighteen rebounds later, what got into Byron Mullens Monday?
“It’s the beard,” Mullens joked of his new fierce look after going for 25 points,18 boards and four assists in the Charlotte Bobcats’ 94-91 victory against the Boston Celtics.
Plenty happened for the Bobcats to break a seven-game losing streak. They recovered from a 10-2 Boston run early in the fourth quarter.
They held the Celtics scoreless the last two minutes.
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They survived 3-point attempts by Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley in the final 14 seconds.
In between all that, Gerald Henderson swished a 3-pointer to trim Boston’s lead to one and Ramon Sessions made a go-ahead 18-footer.
But it was defense that decided this: After going small-ball in several recent late-game possessions, trying to keep pace offensively, coach Mike Dunlap stuck with center Bismack Biyombo and Mullens down the stretch.
“No matter how it went with this one, I was going to live or die with defense,” Dunlap said. “Over those last six possessions what we needed was perfection, and we got it.”
There was good work all around – point guard Kemba Walker hit two huge free throws with 14 seconds left and finished with 18 points, six assists and six rebounds – but the Bobcats (12-29) would have had no chance without the best all-around game of Mullens’ career.
Since the summer he has reinvented himself at Dunlap’s insistence. The coaches accept his 3s (he was 4-of-5 from long range) so long as the 7-footer remembers he’s a 7-footer.
“Every defensive rebound he could go after he went after,” Dunlap said. “I’m able to tell him things he doesn’t want to hear. There’s a trust there.”
Offering an example of that tough love, Dunlap said, “You’ll get your touches, but you’ve got to get your back to the basket, too.”
Mullens said he’s fine with that creative tension, particularly when it achieves these results: “Eighteen rebounds? I’d rather have that than the 25 points because that’s not something I’m known for. I’ve shown this team I can rebound.”
While Boston star center Kevin Garnett guarded Mullens, Biyombo guarded Garnett at the other end. Garnett (16 points and 13 rebounds) beat Biyombo a couple of times with shot fakes, but his 18-footer with 17 seconds left missed.
That forced Jason Terry to foul, and Walker responded with the two free throws for a three-point lead.
Then it was about the Bobcats playing the sort of defense not usually on their resume.
“We were all in the right spots and that’s the biggest thing – communicating,” Walker said.
Then Walker brought the conversation back to Mullens:
“When he has complete games like that, he gives us a great chance.”