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Inside the Celtics Locker Room: Boston has “long way to go” on defense (videos)

Celtics overcame massive defensive lapses through the middle portion of their 107-106 win over Charlotte. It started inside.

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Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

As the Celtics broke deeper into their rotation on Sunday night against the Hornets, the game swung in their direction. The likes of Ahmed Hill and the Martin brothers could not stand in front of Tacko Fall. Javonte Green pulled out dunk content moves that led to the Celtics win behind a 29-27 fourth quarter.

Charlotte lost to one of the great 15th roster spot battles the league has ever seen.

Boston’s regular rotation faltered though. Enes Kanter’s initial run through the rotation saw repeated lapses against the pick-and-roll. The Hornets scored on five of their last six possessions to close the first half ahead 63-58. Charlotte initially led the rebounding battle 38-18, as their bigs slashed to the rim with overwhelming ease.

Brad Stevens hoped individual commitment on defense would overcome personnel concerns. Boston lost its defensive anchor in Al Horford. Kanter signed to replace him, but Stevens started Robert Williams. Both struggled protecting the interior, one in rotations and the other overzealous in contesting.

“Rob was probably so antsy and ready to go, at the 10 minute mark he was out of breath,” Stevens said.

Carsen Edward’s performance drew praise. The Celtics rode a 15-0 comeback run, while he shot 3-for-6 outside. Boston outscored Charlotte by 11 with him on the floor for 17 minutes. Stevens said his defense propelled the swing.

Stevens also talked about the Tacko Fall hype, saying that Fall will play for a long time in the NBA. Before the game, he told Jayson Tatum to focus on quality shots rather than narratives about his free throw attempts. Tatum shined, working mostly inside and from three to score 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting.

Kemba Walker dished out four assists to Tatum and the other wings. He moved on and off the ball early in his Boston debut, allowing Gordon Hayward to drive inside on the move and hit Williams for a rolling dunk. Walker watched his bench secure the victory, and couldn’t believe the size and noise the crowd produced late in the fourth quarter of a preseason game.

“It’s fun,” Walker said. “As soon as Coach Stevens called (Tacko), the ovation he got was unreal. We all went along with it as well on the bench. We were so happy for him. The greatest thing about it is he’s such a great person.”

Walker and Terry Rozier faced opposite of each other months after their last appearance with their old teams. Mike Gorman called Rozier “Kemba” on one possession. Preseason games create those awkward meetings. Tense summer moves cool down as everyone prioritizes warming up. The moments happen, but don’t feel real yet.

Rozier hosted his mother, brother and some of his friends for the game. Others clamored to come, but he told them to wait for the regular season. Rozier chatted with Marcus Smart and his old teammates, and said he drew a warm reaction from the crowd.

“It was a little different man,” he said. “But all the love I got tonight was unbelievable.”

Tatum agreed, finding it crazy to see Rozier on the other side. The fouls felt like practice, as he rejoiced returning to the court after his FIBA World Cup ankle injury ended his summer early. There’s a “long way to go” after day one on the defensive end, he said. But seeing Edwards and others spark the win with defensive energy encouraged him.

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