Maybe it’s the Charlotte barbecue, but there’s something about Charlotte that brings the best out of the Celtics. The first quarter started how most games start when the Celtics face the Hornets with the Celtics getting off to a fast start. Irving and Horford combined for a quick 13 points, and Yabusele actually got the initial nod as the first big off the bench over Theis. It all worked out for the Celtics as they went with an Irving and Tatum led second unit and got just about anything they wanted on the Hornets defense. The team was lights out in the first, shooting 57.1% from three, and had 20 of their 28 first quarter points come from the paint or three. A pleasant development was the team making an aconcerted effort to go to Tatum more, and it did seem that with Irving on the floor, there was more openings for him than when he’s just in traditional 2nd units.
Arts & Crafts with Jayson Tatum. pic.twitter.com/So4c3LYZPm— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) December 28, 2017
The second quarter began with Horford and Smart running a second-unit that featured Rozier, Larkin, and Theis. The unit initially started off slow, but back-to-back Larkin three’s pushed the lead up to 14 (34-20). Shooting was really the theme of the quarter for the Celtics in the second, as they completely flipped the script on their usual slow second quarters and hung up 7-second quarter three’s on the Hornets.
Larkin, Rozier, Horford, and Smart all got into the mix, and before the Hornets knew it, they were down 20 before a couple of Walker 3’s helped them weather the storm a bit. Outside of the Celtics hot shooting, an encouraging sign was the C’s persistence in running the offense to the right people. Horford was a main catalyst in manufacturing a lot of their open looks and those mind-numbing possessions of Smart and Rozier trying to make something out of nothing were completely taken out.
As the starters continued to trickle for both teams to close out the half, the C’s were able to push lead at 16, but couldn’t extend it more due to some regression to the mean from their hot shooting start. But the damage had been done. Boston ended the half shooting a blistering 61.1% from three, and 52.6% from the field contrasted by the Hornets abysmal 35.4%.
The second half started off as sluggish as the second quarters usually do. The team missed shots, had trouble stopping penetration, and within the first 4 minutes of the quarter, the 16 point lead had already been cut to 7 (64-57). The Hornets absolutely killed the Celtics in transition, the constant misses starting to taking their toll on C’s usually stout transition defense. But just as the C’s looked like like they were set for another collapse, Irving did a great job weathering the storm with two nice pick and pop looks to Baynes and a three of his own to push the lead back up to nine (71-62). However, when the 2nd unit started ushering in with Yabusele and Rozier coming in for Tatum and Horford, the Hornets hit back led by a couple of Walker baskets and came back to within two (71-69). From there, the game was within one-two possessions as each team’s respective second units came in. By the time the smoke cleared, the Celtics strong 16-point lead was sliced to a mere 1-point lead. That offense that was unstoppable in the second quarter? 16 points in the quarter, with the team’s field goal percentage plummeting to 44.3%. And just like that, the Celtics wasted an opportunity to get their guys some extended rest with a back-to-back coming up.
Boston came out in the fourth with a lineup headlined by Tatum and Horford to go along with Rozier, Larkin, and Theis. Buckets by Rozier, Horford, and Tatum helped the C’s push the lead back up to 6. The 3-guard lineup with Horford again was great defensively, limiting penetration and moving the ball well on the offensive end. Tatum was again made a focal point, getting some interesting looks from HORN sets. His length allowed him to mostly have his way in the paint whenever he puts his head down to get to the basket.
This is going to be so goddamn good pic.twitter.com/PWeTJOXd1Z— John Karalis (@RedsArmy_John) December 28, 2017
As the starters began to file back in, Brad continued to go to his 3-guard lineup, leaving Larkin in with the starting unit due to his excellent ability to get through screens on the Walker PnR. Stevens often gets some heat for playing so many super small lineups, but it was clear as day that the Celtics don’t win this game without the ability to put three-guards on floor. It might not work every night, but it sure did tonight.