CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bernie Bickerstaff had just lost a heartbreaker in his final game as Charlotte's coach, but his eyes dampened as he came back onto the court to be honored for building the third-year expansion team.
He stood with his wife as a video montage showed old highlights and relayed messages from people ranging from Jerry West to commissioner David Stern.
"I guarantee you we have a ways to go, but we won't be outworked on the court or off the court," Bickerstaff later told the crowd.
In his final game, the Bobcats didn't give up. They ran out of bodies.
Eddy Curry scored 28 points and tipped in a miss with 0.6 seconds left to give the New York Knicks a 94-93 victory on Wednesday night.
Steve Francis added 24 points for the Knicks, who snapped a five-game losing streak and avoided their second consecutive 50-loss season.
After Raymond Felton's three-point play gave Charlotte the lead with 9.9 seconds left, Nate Robinson raced the ball up the floor and fed Malik Rose. He missed a baseline jumper, but Curry tipped it in from the weak side.
"I kind of saw it going low a little bit, so I just got myself in position to get it in," Curry said.
Felton's desperation half-court shot at the buzzer didn't hit iron, and the 62-year-old Bickerstaff walked slowly off the court.
"The reality is, it's over. It's 82 games and this is the 35th year," Bickerstaff said. "After 82 games, it's always over, but this is the real end."
Walter Herrmann scored 22 points and Felton added 19 for the Bobcats, who had won seven of 10.
Bickerstaff, who has spent four decades in the NBA as an assistant, head coach and general manager, was hired as Charlotte's first coach and GM shortly after the team was formed.
Bickerstaff was 77-169 in Charlotte, but improved from 18 wins to 26 to 33 in the expansion team's three seasons. He's expected to remain in the Bobcats' front office.
"I can't imagine a better tutor, teacher and inspiration for this team," owner Bob Johnson said. "Under Bernie's leadership, we were one of the most competitive and hardworking teams in the NBA."
But Bickerstaff didn't have much to work with in his last game.
Charlotte was without Matt Carroll (back), Sean May (knee) and Jake Voskuhl (knee), while Adam Morrison was held to three minutes because of a sprained knee.
Leading scorer Gerald Wallace had only 12 points in 28 minutes because of pain in both knees. Emeka Okafor was held to three points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes and fouled out with 6:25 left.
That left no one to guard Curry, and the Knicks took their first lead since the second quarter on Curry's free throw with 5:39 left. Curry scored 12 points in the final quarter with Herrmann forced to guard him.
Still, Charlotte rallied as Mardy Collins hit only one of two free throws with 15 seconds left and fouled Felton on his three-point play.
But the Knicks, out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, improved to 4-15 since coach and president Isiah Thomas received a contract extension.
"I expect them to play hard and they expect me to coach hard right until the final buzzer," Thomas said. "I expect certain things of them just as they expect them from me. I just wish we were still playing."
Befitting the final game of the season matching two non-playoff teams, nine players sat out with injuries.
The Knicks had only 10 healthy bodies. Stephon Marbury (toe), Jamal Crawford (ankle), David Lee (leg), Renaldo Balkman (virus), and Quentin Richardson (back) were sidelined.
The Knicks led by 11 when Bickerstaff called a timeout with 9:42 left in the second quarter. It worked, as the Bobcats immediately went on a 16-0 run, a lead Charlotte held until Okafor fouled out.
After the on-court ceremony, Bickerstaff's players, one by one, hugged him on the court.
"I have never been associated in my 35 years in the NBA with a group of young men that came to play every night, that pulled for each other, than this group of young men," Bickerstaff said.
Thomas remains upbeat about the team's future. "I like what we have and I like the direction we're headed in," he said before the game. ... Thomas acknowledged he played Crawford for 30 seconds Monday so he could be recognized by the home crowd. ... Unlike many teams, the Bobcats don't conduct exit interviews and players were allowed to take their end-of-season physicals after the game so they could leave town. ... Former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, who starred at Virginia Tech, said he was able to contact all his old friends there. "Everybody I know made it through," said Curry, who works for the Bobcats.
|New York (33-49) «||24||14||20||36||94|
|NY:E. Curry 28 Pts
NY:M. Rose 15 Reb
NY:M. Rose 9 Ast
|CHA:W. Herrmann 22 Pts
CHA:E. Okafor 8 Reb
CHA:B. Knight 13 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|S. Francis, PG||47||7-16||8-11||8||3||1||24|
|M. Collins, PG||44||3-6||2-4||8||1||4||8|
|E. Curry, C||38||11-20||6-11||8||0||5||28|
|J. Jeffries, SF||15||2-5||1-1||5||0||1||5|
|C. Frye, PF||13||0-2||0-0||5||0||3||0|
|N. Robinson, PG||40||8-15||0-1||3||1||4||18|
|M. Rose, PF||37||3-10||4-4||15||9||2||10|
|J. James, PF||5||0-0||1-2||1||0||2||1|
|K. Cato, C||Did Not Play|
|S. Marbury, PG||Did Not Play|
|J. Crawford, SG||Did Not Play|
|Q. Richardson, SF||Did Not Play|
|D. Lee, PF||Did Not Play|
|R. Balkman, SF||Did Not Play|
|R. Morris, C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|W. Herrmann, SF||44||9-19||0-0||5||0||4||22|
|D. Anderson, SG||35||5-10||2-3||1||6||5||14|
|B. Knight, PG||35||5-10||2-4||0||13||1||12|
|R. Felton, PG||32||8-15||2-3||1||2||0||19|
|E. Okafor, C||24||1-4||1-1||8||1||6||3|
|G. Wallace, SF||28||4-8||3-6||5||1||3||12|
|J. McInnis, PG||16||1-5||0-0||3||1||0||2|
|A. Anderson, SG||15||3-7||0-0||2||1||2||6|
|P. Brezec, C||5||1-2||1-2||3||0||1||3|
|A. Morrison, SG||3||0-1||0-0||1||0||0||0|
|O. Harrington, PF||2||0-0||0-0||0||0||3||0|
|M. Carroll, SG||2||0-0||0-0||0||0||1||0|
|R. Hollins, C||1||0-0||0-0||0||0||3||0|
|E. Williams, PF||Did Not Play|
|J. Voskuhl, C||Did Not Play|
|S. May, F||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|