By Charles F. Gardner, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A disastrous third quarter ruined the Milwaukee Bucks’ opening night.
The Bucks led by 11 points at halftime and nearly overcame a nine-point Charlotte lead in the fourth quarter, but the bottom line was a 96-95 loss to the Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena on Monday night.
The third-quarter meltdown included forward Stephen Jackson picking up his fourth and fifth fouls and a technical foul and going to the bench.
And Bucks forward Drew Gooden drew a flagrant-2 foul and was ejected during the Bobcats’ 13-0 run to end the quarter.
“We were under a little bit of duress for the first time as a team because they were taking it to us,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “That caused us to freeze up on the offensive end and hold the ball too much.
“When we moved the ball tonight, we got a good look. We didn’t always make them.”
A case in point was an open three-point try by Bucks guard Mike Dunleavy Jr. with 11.9 seconds left, a shot that would have given Milwaukee a one-point lead. Guard Beno Udrih swung the ball to Dunleavy on the left wing.
“Great look,” Dunleavy said. “I thought it was down. It just didn’t drop. I think everybody thought it was down.
“You’ve got to have a short memory with games and with shots. We’ve just got to bounce back, go home and get a win tomorrow night.”
The Bucks headed home immediately after the game for Tuesday night’s home opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Bobcats rookie Kemba Walker rebounded Dunleavy’s late miss and sank two foul shots with 9.9 seconds left to give Charlotte a 96-92 lead, and Udrih’s three at the buzzer meant little.
Milwaukee led twice in the last 2 minutes, at 90-89 on a Dunleavy three and the last time at 92-91 on a hook shot by Andrew Bogut with 49.5 seconds remaining.
Point guard Brandon Jennings led Milwaukee with 22 points and sank back-to-back three-pointers to pace a rally after the Bucks trailed, 89-81, with less than 3 minutes remaining.
The Bucks made their final push after Skiles went to a smaller lineup featuring Bogut, Jennings, Dunleavy, Udrih and Shaun Livingston.
But it ended as a disappointing night for Jackson and Livingston, the two former Bobcats making a return to Charlotte.
Jackson finished with six points and was in foul trouble throughout the game, playing just 17 minutes.
“We missed shots; that’s why we lost,” Jackson said. “I had like six fouls in three minutes.
“My teammates need me out there, so it’s frustrating. But at the same time we still had a chance to win the game.”
Livingston took advantage of some post-up situations against smaller defenders and had 14 points, six assists and four rebounds in 35 minutes off the bench.
The Bobcats outscored the Bucks, 30-14, in the third quarter to take a 71-66 lead entering the final period.
“We need to work on our third quarters,” said Bogut, who had 17 points and nine rebounds. “We got down on ourselves and we just started forcing up shots and our offense hit a halt.
“Then we couldn’t get stops. We were lucky to be even within a point of that game. No disrespect to Charlotte, but they’re probably not a playoff team.
“Neither are we. But if we want to be, we’ve got to beat teams like Charlotte and Cleveland and those teams so we don’t look back at it with regret.”
Point guard D.J. Augustin led the Bobcats with 19 points and eight assists, and Gerald Henderson added 18 points and nine rebounds.
Walker made an impressive NBA debut with 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes off the bench. Corey Maggette added 12 points, seven rebounds and six turnovers in 39 minutes against his former team.
Maggette went to Charlotte in the draft-day trade that brought Jackson and Livingston to Milwaukee.
“Overall, we’ll be fine, but it stings a little bit,” Livingston said. “Just to stick it to Michael (Bobcats owner Michael Jordan), that’s what it’s about. But we’ll have to wait until next time.”
Jordan watched from several rows behind the Bobcats’ bench, and Bucks owner Herb Kohl also was in attendance.