The hive was buzzing as the Celtics stepped onto the Hornets’ home court. With Charlotte having won their last two games (including a surprising comeback victory against the Miami Heat) and playing their first home game of the regular season, the momentum was clearly with the Hornets.
The Celtics on the other hand were out to prove that they are indeed a part of the East’s elite. After a shaky start to the regular season that saw the Celtics just barely beat the Nets and then lose on the following night to the newly reconfigured Chicago Bulls, Boston was out to prove that the preseason hype wasn’t misplaced.
Despite the Celtics having won both their preseason matchups against the Hornets, going into this game it would seem Charlotte had the edge. Yet any such illusions were quickly dispelled as the Celtics came out committed to outworking their opponents and not falling behind in pace, like they had in their last two games. The first quarter was a flurry of activity for the Celtics, who opened up with a barrage of shots from long range.
Charlotte controlled the tip, and Kemba Walker got the first bucket of the game with a quick pull-up jumper early in the clock. But the Celtics were fast to answer back with a three-pointer from Jae Crowder, who has been blistering from long range so far this season. Bradley, eager to re-enforce his role as the resident sharpshooter, followed up with a three of his own.
Another floater from the Hornets and some back-and-forth play saw the score level out slightly until a beautiful passing play set up Isaiah for a wide open three. This was followed up by another long-range bomb from Bradley and then yet another three from IT, with the Celtics getting to 15 points off of just 5 made buckets and only 6 attempts.
IT knocks down a 3. All of Boston's first 15 points came from behind the arc. pic.twitter.com/vgLE5JifYK— Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 29, 2016
The Hornets would call a quick timeout halfway through the first, likely to address their perimeter defense. Yet while they came back out with some extra aggression they failed to make up much ground.
Al ‘just plays the right way’ Horford continued to impress, running the floor, making plays and boxing out his opponents like the consummate professional he is. In Al Horford, the Celtics have finally found a center who can actually be central to their playmaking. While Bradley was all over the court scoring, passing and continuing to pull down boards with amazing efficiency for a player at his position.
Yet again it was unselfishness that would define the Celtics style of play as an assist-heavy approach saw the Celtics sharing the basketball and always looking for the extra pass. Settling into a rhythm early, the Celtics were able to rotate in some of their bench players and slow down the pace of play. Seeming flustered by the early deficit, the Hornets were unable to capitalise on any added momentum that may have been gained by the hometown crowd, as the Charlotte fans were silenced by the Celtics stellar play. Now the Celtics clearly had the edge, heading to the second quarter with a strong lead of 28-19.
The second quarter saw Stevens utilising his bench players as Rozier, Green, Brown, Jerebko and Zeller would hit the floor together. Unfortunately play stalled for the second unit and they allowed Charlotte to sneak back into the game. It didn’t take long for Isaiah to be put back in to try and create some instant offense. After a quick timeout the Celtics came back ready to play both sides of the floor, with Jerebko and Johnson providing some strong interior defense against Charlotte’s somewhat depleted frontcourt.
To add to their existing injury concerns, Hornets shooting guard Jeremy Lamb left the game early with a hamstring injury and would not return. While Jaylen Brown saw another extended run and was able to bully his way to the basket a few times, he still only managed to make a single bucket before the half. After the second unit coughed up the Celtics’ hard-earned lead and allowed Charlotte to get within a single point, Stevens rotated back in his starting five, and the Celtics were able to re-assert their dominance by outhustling the Hornets.
Some strong defensive play would slow down Charlotte’s scoring and allow Boston to maintain the lead, but a lack of offensive execution meant they were unable to extend it and they went into the locker room with a slender 44-41 lead at the half.
While their turnover numbers spiked, the Celtics did manage to improve their rebounding after an abysmal effort against Chicago. At the half the Celtics were beating Charlotte on the boards 24 to 22, yet the usually steady Celtics had committed 10 turnovers to Charlotte’s 4.
Neither team would make a shot for nearly the first two minutes of play in the second half, until a confidently delivered pass from IT found Crowder camped out in the corner and the Celtics were able to get another three-pointer.
Scoring went back and forth for most of the third quarter despite play becoming more muddied as both teams continued to commit a number of fouls and Crowder had to briefly hit the locker room due to a bloody nose.
But there was little rest for the Celtics’ starters as the Hornets kept things close. Stevens might have been hesitant to roll out his bench unit, choosing to keep Amir on the court even after his fourth foul, but eventually Stevens would slot Jordan Mickey and Jaylen Brown in for some minutes.
Gerald Green, Jaylen Brown and Jordan Mickey played briefly alongside the Celtics All-Star combo of Horford and Thomas before Jerebko and Rozier were subbed in to give the starters some rest and the end of the third was left to the bench.
There was a little Jaylen Brown magic toward the end of the third, as he managed a three-point play by battling through the Hornets defense. And overall the second unit looked stronger with Mickey at the center spot, but they were still unable to extend the Celtics’ lead, and Charlotte managed to finish the third with a one-point lead at 72 to Boston’s 71.
The battle became heated in the fourth as the normally cool-as-a-cucumber Celtics head coach Brad Stevens became frustrated with the one-sided nature of the foul calls and got himself a technical foul for his troubles.
Brad Stevens looks petrified after that foul call https://t.co/5Gz1noco9H— Brian Robb (@CelticsHub) October 30, 2016
Crowder, obviously inspired by Stevens’s passion, also received a technical in the fourth, resulting in some easy buckets for the Hornets. Nonetheless the Celtics were able to control the tempo for most of the fourth. Avery Bradley came out scoring, getting 14 points in the final period after already leading Celtics in rebounding. He would finish the game as the leading scorer and rebounder with a solid double-double with 31 points 11 rebounds as well as 4 assists.
Despite the second unit stumbling through most of their minutes again, the strength of the Celtics’ starters allowed Boston to pull out the win and end the Charlotte Hornets’ short-lived winning streak.
There was some uncharacteristically poor free-throw shooting from Isaiah plus some lapses overall on defense, as well as some questionable calls that all served to slow down and hamper Boston’s efforts. Hopefully, this breakout performance by Bradley is more than just an isolated incident and is instead a sign of things to come as his play has been phenomenal of late.
Yet while the Celtics haven’t opened the season with the sheer dominance that some expected of them, there was some great play from the team in this win. They closed out the game with confidence, and although there may still be a lot to work on, this unit has already proved there’s a lot to work with. The Celtics finished the game with the win over the Hornets 104-98