Coming off of a tough home-and-home against Washington, the Celtics made their way down to Charlotte to take on old friend Big Al Jefferson and the new-look Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night.
Boston got off to a rough start, coming out of the gate with an extremely stagnant offensive approach that held them around the 35% shooting mark throughout the majority of the first quarter. Luckily, the Hornets experienced the same kind of struggles with their execution, partially disrupted by Boston's active feet on the defensive end early on. (which unfortunately did not last very long). Charlotte, a weak perimeter shooting team much like the Celtics, had a very difficult time establishing Jefferson early on and relegated to a lot of forced action predicated off of broken possessions.
Kelly Olynyk provided a much-needed spark off the bench in the second frame and really helped the Celtics find a little bit of rhythm. The big fella is getting very good at using his ball skills to create his own opportunities to drive or pull up.
Of course, we also landed our first case of Zeller on Zeller crime when Tyler rejected a shot by his little brother in front of mom and dad. The seven-foot siblings didn't necessarily spend a whole lot of time guarding one another, but they certainly had a little something extra to prove tonight and it showed right away. Both Tyler and Cody were active from the jump, displaying their soft touch and making timely dives to the rim off the ball.
With Olynyk, Zeller and Rondo finally getting the C's some easy buckets making plays with the ball with a purpose, Boston put together a 29-18 advantage in the second quarter and held a five-point lead at the half.
Especially in a game like this, where both sides struggle to shoot the ball for an extended period of time, it goes back to something our guy Scal brought up on the broadcast in the third quarter - the game rewards the more aggressive team. The third quarter was a perfect example of that, as Charlotte played with a far superior sense of urgency and did a great job of breaking down the defense with movement of both the ball and bodies. Kemba Walker especially had an extra bounce in his step coming out of the locker room, and he lead the charge in terms of putting pressure on the opposition and drawing contact off the bounce.
At the end of the third quarter, the Hornets had gotten to the free throw line for 25 free throws versus Boston's eight attempts.
After a quiet opening to the game, Al Jefferson woke up, as well. The former Celtic scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half, propelling Charlotte's inside-out attack and really forcing the Celtics to make a lot of bad help decisions. Even though Charlotte doesn't necessarily space the floor with a cast of perimeter snipers, they still get a lot of good action off of reactionary reads and they are well-schooled to take advantage of cheats and overzealous pick n' roll coverage.
Boston found themselves trailing by seven heading into the final frame, and the Hornets certainly had the momentum on their side. What they didn't have, however, was MARCUS THORNTON! Boston needed a spark more than ever, and Thornton caught fire from the outside to deliver a big time 13-point outburst at the right time.
Unfortunately, Thornton's run was just about the extent of Boston's success in the final frame. After Thornton buried that final jumper, the team's execution took a dramatic hit and the Hornets never took their foot off the gas. As Boston failed to string together multiple stops and get easy buckets, it seemed as though the Hornets were playing at an accelerated pace to close the game. They were sharp and sure of themselves and they carried themselves that way, while the men in green didn't look like they were all on the same page.
Charlotte won this game because they played together and were by far the more aggressive team. Plain and simple, they played more fluid basketball and took advantage of a team that has generally only found success in spurts. Tonight was no different, and even another triple-double performance from Rajon Rondo wasn't enough to get the job done.
The Celtics had a tough time finding a rhythm offensively because they lacked motion and once again settled for far too many perimeter jumpers. It's one thing when the team is hitting, but that wasn't the case tonight. In fact, Boston shot just 5-23 from beyond the arc and they certainly didn't attack the rim to counter those struggles. Charlotte, on the other hand, didn't play outside of their limitations and dictated their own game.
Throughout the entire second half, Boston was submissive on both ends of the floor. This Celtics team needs to program themselves to physically outwork their opponent and maintain a consistent attack mentality. Let's see some physicality, boys! Physicality!