Kemba Walker returns to the arena where he played for his first 8 seasons in the league as the Celtics continue their 3 game road trip with a game against the Charlotte Hornets. Kemba was a first-round pick of the Hornets, who were then the Bobcats, in 2011. He led that franchise in scoring over each of the past five seasons and is the career points leader there with 12,009 career points.
These two teams met in Boston in the Celtics first preseason game. The Celtics came away with a 107-106 victory in that game, which was Terry Rozier’s first game back at the TD Garden, where he spent his first 4 seasons. This is the first of 3 regular season games between these two teams. They will meet again in Charlotte on 12/31 and in Boston on 12/22.
While preseason games aren’t always an accurate measure of how good a team can be, that narrow victory over the Hornets should serve as a reminder to the Celtics that the Hornets will not be an easy team to beat. Their record is a game above .500 and they are playing in their home arena where the fans will be energized to beat the team that took their All Star point guard from them.
Last season, the Celtics and Hornets split the season series 2-2. In the last game between them last season, on March 23, the Hornets beat the Celtics 124-117 in Charlotte. In that game, Kemba Walker finished with 36 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. The Celtics are 2-1 on the road while the Hornets are 2-1 at home. The Celtics have won 5 straight while the Hornets have won their last 3.
Jaylen Brown, who has missed the last 3 games is listed as probable for this game. He said he expects to play with no restrictions. He may rejoin the starting lineup but Brad Stevens mentioned a need to boost the scoring off the bench and so we may see Brown come off the bench. We won’t know for sure until the lineups are announced just before game time.
Enes Kanter has been out since the first game of the season with a knee contusion and is listed as questionable for this game. Daniel Theis has been dealing with a sore ankle but is expected to play in this game. His status is a game time decision.
For the Hornets, Nicolas Batum suffered a fractured finger on opening night. He has been able to participate in some basketball activities but is at least two weeks away from being cleared to return to full contact. PJ Washington suffered a lower left leg contusion in Tuesday’s win over the Pacers and is listed as probable for this game. His status will be a game time decision.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (G League) out
Jaylen Brown (illness) probable
Daniel Theis (ankle) probable
Enes Kanter (knee) questionable
Two Way Players
Probable Hornets Starters
PG: Terry Rozier
SG: Dwayne Bacon
SF: Miles Bridges
PF: PJ Washington
C: Cody Zeller
Nicolas Batum (finger) out
PJ Washington (leg) probable
Two Way Players
Kemba Walker vs Terry Rozier
These two point guards were basically traded for each other in the off season. Kemba doesn’t have anything to prove, and he said that he’s most looking forward to getting to see his mother and his family. Rozier, though will undoubtedly be looking to prove to the Celtics that they made a mistake in not keeping him on as their starter when Kyrie left. Rozier is averaging 16.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists. Hopefully Kemba will get the nice welcome he deserves from the fans.
Jayson Tatum vs PJ Washington
Washington was the 12th pick in the 2019 draft and has been playing very well for the Hornets. He is averaging 15.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists. He led the Hornets in the preseason game against the Celtics with 16 points and 7 rebounds. He injured his leg on Tuesday but is expected to play in this game.
Gordon Hayward vs Miles Bridges
Hayward is coming off a career game against the Cavaliers and hopefully will continue where he left off in this game. Bridges is averaging 13.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists for the Hornets. He was the 12th pick in the 2018 draft and he scored a career high 20 points last season against the Celtics in their March 23rd win.
Keys to the Game
Defense Defense Defense!! - Defense is the key to winning every game. The Hornets average 107.9 points per game while the Celtics average 110.3 points per game. The Celtics are 11th with a defensive rating of 102.8 while the Hornets are 27th with a defensive rating of 111.7. In the preseason win over the Hornets, it was the Celtics defense late in the game that allowed them to pull out that win. The Celtics must continue to make defense a priority and play tough individual and team defense if they want to keep winning.
Rebound - Rebounding takes effort and desire and when the Celtics have both of those on the boards, that carries through to the other parts of their game. The Celtics must commit to give effort to get rebounds. They can’t score without the ball and they can’t continually give up extra possessions to the opponent by failing to rebound and expect to win.
Play Team Ball - The Celtics play best when they move the ball and find the open man. They have to play TEAM ball and share the ball and no player should try to do too much or play hero ball. They also need to commit to play team defense. The Celtics play the best when the scoring is spread out and no one player has to do too much. So far, the Celtics have done well with this and they need to continue to work as a team.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have started off slow in several games this season. They need to come out strong and play hard at the beginning, especially on the defensive end and not allow the Hornets to get off to a good start and build a lead. They need to start strong and play hard right up to the final buzzer.
On the Road - The Celtics are on the road for their second straight game. They need to block out all of the distractions that come with playing on the road and in front of a hostile crowd and focus on playing their game.
Kemba and Terry - This may be an emotional game for both players. Kemba will be back in the arena where he spent is first 8 seasons while Terry is facing the team that drafted him and that he played for in his first 4 seasons. Can they block out their emotions and just play team ball?
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Referees all have their own quirks in how they call the game and teams have to adjust to how it is being called. Hopefully they call it fairly and let both teams play without calling every little ticky tack contact.