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The Read & React: Celtics win “must win” game

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In the middle of a brutal stretch where the team plays 8 out of their next 10 games on the road, it was nice to be back in Boston and playing Celtics basketball.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Perimeter defense the difference (Keith P. Smith): The Hornets were missing Kemba Walker, and that helped for sure, but the Celtics perimeter defense was as good as it has been all season. Charlotte only shot 8-30 from behind the arc. Avery Bradley got victimized by Nic Batum's size inside a couple of times, but really controlled him around the arc. Batum shot just 6-19 from the floor and 2-7 from behind the arc and also turned it over five times. Marcus Smart played his typically solid defense, as did Terry Rozier, and Isaiah Thomas even got involved. IT didn't allow himself to get screened as easily and fought harder than he usually does for position against players on switches.

Charlotte ahas a host of good shooting big men, and Al Horford, Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk did a nice job keeping them under wraps. Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky and Spencer Hawes were a combined 3-11 from three and just 9-24 overall. Jerebko, in particular, had several standout plays where he hedged on screen and roll action and recovered back to take away the passing lane.

For a team that has struggled for much of the year on defense, this game represented a return to the form Celtics fans had become used to over the last two years. If Boston is going to make a big second half push, as we've also seen them do the last two season, the defense will be a big part of it. And that is exactly how Brad Stevens wants it.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Home sweet home (Bill Sy): The Celtics were only back home for one game before heading back out on the road for a three-game trip, but in a win against the Hornets, we got to see some of the creature comforts that I love about this team. Isaiah Thomas was back in the lineup after missing four games with groin strain, but it’s these little things that remind me of why I love these Celtics:

Five of Jae Crowder’s seven field goal attempts last night were 3’s, but it’s two drives that got him to the line that I’d love to see him do more. In Boston’s starting lineup, Crowder is an unsung hero, guarding the team’s best wing scorer and acting as a 4th or 5th option in the offense.

Against Charlotte, most of those shots were from behind the arc, but once in a while, he gets his 6’6, 235-pound frame charging into the lane and turns himself into a running back. These aren’t drives where Crowder is coming off of a pick. He’s hitting holes that are opening up ever so briefly as the ball whips around the perimeter.

Kelly Olynyk’s outside shooting will always be his calling card, but he’s an underrated playmaker. Before his growth spurt at Gonzaga, KO was a point guard so it should be no surprise that he can put it on the floor and create off the dribble. He doesn’t use his size and strength like Crowder though. Kelly’s a little more crafty when he attacks the paint, using pump fakes and up-and-unders to create angles for shots and passes.

Finally, it was nice to have IT4 back in the lineup with Al Horford to create that lethal pick-and-roll/pop duo again. They’ve been effective working together in the two-man game, but they don’t get enough credit for collectively creating for their teammates. When you think about stars, you think about their ability to draw double teams. With Horford and Thomas, it’s about them drawing a third defender to help on their PnP’s or PnR’s. They both had five assists vs. Charlotte.