Boston Celtics never recover from Charlotte Hornets hot start, fall in Sunday matinee

In what must come as a surprise to absolutely nobody, the Boston Celtics played terribly in yet another afternoon game. This time, they got blown out by the undermanned Charlotte Hornets 125-104 on Sunday afternoon in Charlotte. The Hornets got 24 from Devonte’ Graham, 22 from PJ Washington, and 21 from Terry Rozier, while Boston got 20 from Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker. Although the outcome doesn’t move either team in the standings, Boston is now tied with the Miami Heat at 32-29 as we head down the stretch.

Coming into the game almost finally at full health, with only Robert Williams remaining on the injury report, things were looking up for the C’s. Jayson Tatum opened the scoring with a nice up-and-under move in the post, but that was pretty much the high point of the game for Boston. The Hornets responded immediately, making their first six shots and nine of their first 10 to jump out to a 23-8 lead in less than six minutes of play. This lazy play from Tatum and Walker pretty much set the tone for the game.

That first quarter was one of the worst that the Celtics have played this season, and it led to them trailing by 10, 33-23, going into the second. And even though they seemed to play a little better in the second frame, somehow the Charlotte lead actually grew by a point. Midway through the quarter, the Hornets pushed the difference to 18 points, and even though the Celtics fought back, they trailed 63-52 at the half.

In the third quarter it was much of the same. Boston kept fighting but was never able to get over the hump, closing the gap to seven points at several points before the Hornets would go on a run to increase the gap again. Smart (12), Walker (10), Brown (8) and Tatum (6) combined to score all of Boston’s 36 points, showing once again how dependent this team is on their best players to create, and how inconsistent everybody else is.

For all intents and purposes, the end of the third quarter was the end of this game. On a day where everything the Hornets did was gold, and the Celtics couldn’t do much right, Miles Bridges’ buzzer beater was the perfect microcosm. With time running down and the Celtics down by only 9, Marcus Smart drove down the court with a chance to close out the quarter and decrease the Charlotte lead. Instead, he felt contact from PJ Washington, threw his hands up to try and draw a foul, and lost the ball. The refs didn’t blow their whistle, Miles Bridges picked up the loose ball and beat the buzzer with this deep three.

This possible six-point swing sent the C’s into the fourth down 12, and they never got closer than that. Late in the fourth the Hornets lead grew as large as 24 before settling at the 125-104 final. It was a forgettable day full of forgettable performances, particularly on the defensive end. It’s one thing to allow a hot start but then pick up the defense and start to make a run. That never happened. Boston let the Charlotte hot start snowball by consistently allowing wide open looks and just generally looking lost on defense.

This team needs to realize that they aren’t entitled to wins just because they’re more talented than the team across from them. They need to realize that they need to actually play defense, pass the ball, and show some effort to win. It’s a cliché, but hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, and that’s been the story of the Celtics season so far, and they’re running out of time to fix it. With only 11 games left, the Celtics have only a few more games to decide their fate. On one hand, they’re only 1.5 games out of the 5 seed and a much more favorable matchup than the Milwaukee Bucks. On the other, they’re tied with the 7 seed Miami Heat for a spot in the play-in tournament. At this point, it’s not a secret which of those outcomes is more likely if Boston doesn’t simply stay put in the 6 seed.

Next up for Boston is a matchup on Tuesday night with the 20-40 Oklahoma City Thunder. This is a must-win for Boston, and I mean a MUST-win. There’s no excuse to lose this game against a team that declared it was tanking when it sent Al Horford home for the season so it could give more playing time to young players. With the crowding at the bottom of the East, the C’s need to take advantage of this matchup and hopefully create a little separation from the play-in tournament.  

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