CLEVELAND — Al Jefferson scored 24 points, including seven in overtime, and the Charlotte Bobcats clinched a playoff spot with a 96-94 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night.
Charlotte is in the postseason for the second time in its 10-year history and the first time since 2010. The Bobcats (39-38) are over .500 for the second time this season and hold seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Kyrie Irving scored a career-high 44 points, but the loss further damaged Cleveland’s slim playoff hopes. The Cavaliers (31-47) trail eighth-place Atlanta by 3½ games for the final playoff spot in the East.
Irving, who defended himself before the game over reports he’s unhappy in Cleveland, was 16 of 31 from the field, including five 3-pointers. He added eight assists and seven rebounds.
Gerald Henderson’s basket gave Charlotte a 90-89 lead with 1:08 remaining and the Bobcats made four free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Kemba Walker scored 20 points while Henderson added 15 for the Bobcats, who have won four straight and swept the four-game season series with Cleveland.
Walker’s 3-pointer with 32 seconds remaining in regulation gave Charlotte an 82-80 lead, but Irving’s jumper seven seconds later tied the game.
Walker, closely guarded by Irving, missed a jumper from the top of the key as time ran out.
Irving’s basket gave Cleveland an 89-86 lead with 1:55 remaining in overtime, but Jefferson hit a free throw and Henderson’s basket put the Bobcats ahead.
Following a Cleveland turnover, Walker missed a jumper, but Cody Zeller got the rebound and passed it out to Walker, who was fouled and made both shots with 17 seconds remaining to make it 92-89.
After Dion Waiters sank two free throws, Walker split a pair of foul shots with 11 seconds to go. Following a time out, Irving took the inbounds pass at the top of the key, but his wide-open 3-pointer rimmed out. Henderson’s two free throws with 7 seconds left gave the Bobcats a 95-91 lead.
Spencer Hawes made a 3-pointer with 4 seconds to get the Cavaliers within one before Jefferson hit a free throw with 2.3 seconds left. He missed the second, but the Cavaliers had no timeouts remaining and Hawes’ desperation full-court heave was short.
Cleveland took an early seven-point lead against Charlotte, but the Bobcats finished the first half with an 11-2 run to go ahead 40-33 at halftime. Jefferson scored four points, Walker knocked down a 3-pointer and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hit a jumper to key the run.
Charlotte pushed the margin to 11 points before Irving took over. He scored 16 points in the third quarter to spark a comeback from a 45-34 deficit. He hit two 3-pointers in a span of 24 seconds that gave Cleveland a 61-58 lead.
The Cavaliers had a chance to move within a game of the Hawks with a win in Atlanta on Friday, but instead suffered a 117-98 loss that ended any realistic chance they had of reaching the postseason since 2010.
Kidd-Gilchrist played despite bruising his back in a hard in Friday’s win over Orlando.
NETS 105, 76ERS 101
PHILADELPHIA — Kevin Garnett scored 10 points in his first game in more than five weeks to help Brooklyn beat Philadelphia.
The 37-year-old Garnett missed 19 straight games since Feb. 27 because of back spasms. The Nets went 14-5 over that span.
Garnett was back in the starting lineup and was sharp from the start. He scored on an alley-oop in the first quarter, made his first four shots, and had a nasty block on Michael Carter-Williams’ layup attempt that knocked the rookie guard to the ground.
Garnett also passed Alex English to move into 14th on the NBA’s career scoring list.
The veteran center did not play in the fourth quarter.
Deron Williams had 19 points and Mason Plumlee 16 for the Nets.
Thaddeus Young led the Sixers with 20 points.
RAPTORS 102, BUCKS 98
MILWAUKEE — DeMar DeRozan scored 15 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and Toronto beat Milwaukee to keep pace in the hunt for playoff position.
Toronto and the Chicago Bulls, who beat Washington on Saturday night, are 45-32 and tied for the third seed in the Eastern Conference with five games to play.
Milwaukee fell to an NBA-worst 14-63, guaranteeing the team’s worst record in its 45-year history.
Greivis Vasquez tied a season-high with 26 points for Toronto, which has won three consecutive games and six of seven. Vasquez, who averages 9.1 points, made up the scoring lost when starting point guard Kyle Lowry missed the game with a bruised left kneecap.
DeRozan made six free throws in the final 24 seconds to seal the victory.
Khris Middleton scored 20 points for Milwaukee, which has lost 13 of 14 games.
BULLS 96, WIZARDS 78
WASHINGTON — D.J. Augustin scored 25 points, Joakim Noah had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Chicago turned a possible first-round playoff preview into a laugher, never trailing in a win over Washington.
Augustin made 6 of 11 3-pointers — but only 2 of 8 2-pointers — and Carlos Boozer added 16 points for the Bulls, who have won five straight and are battling the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Augustin has averaged 19.8 points during the winning streak.
John Wall scored 20 points, and Marcin Gortat had 19 for the Wizards, who sit in sixth place in the East. If they hold that spot, they would face the third-seeded team.
ORLANDO, Fla. — Arron Afflalo scored 18 points and Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless added 17 apiece to lead Orlando over short-handed Minnesota.
Rookie Victor Oladipo contributed 16 points and six assists to help Orlando snap a three-game losing streak. Kyle O’Quinn had 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Ricky Rubio led Minnesota with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Corey Brewer had 15 for Timberwolves, who were missing many key players.
Minnesota played without its three leading scorers, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic, all out with injuries. Chase Budinger, starting in place of Martin, left in the first minute with an ankle injury and didn’t return.
PISTONS 115, CELTICS 111
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Rodney Stuckey came off the bench to score 26 points and help Detroit rally past Boston.
The Pistons trailed by as many as 19 points in third quarter and were down 95-85 at the start of the fourth before going on a 15-4 run that gave them their first lead since early in the game. The teams traded the lead several times before Stuckey made a pair of free throws with 57 seconds left to break a 111-all tie.
Jerryd Bayless tried for a go-ahead shot in the final seconds but his 3-point try rimmed out.
Greg Monroe scored 21 points, Brandon Jennings had 20 and Andre Drummond added 19 and 20 rebounds to help Detroit end a two-game skid.
Bayless scored 25 points and Jeff Green had 22 as the Celtics lost their eighth straight.