The Celtics head to Charlotte to take on the Hornets for their second game in as many nights. The Hornets are also playing on the second night of back to back games having played in Brooklyn on Sunday. Both teams also needed to travel after Sunday’s game. This is the first of 4 games between these two teams. They will play in Boston 1/19 and 2/2 and again in Charlotte on 3/9.
The Celtics won the series last season 2-1 with the Celtics winning their two home games and Charlotte also winning at home. The Celtics are 68-44 all time against the Hornets and 31-25 when the games are in Charlotte. Once again, the Celtics will be facing a couple of former Celtics who will likely have special incentive to beat their former team.
The Hornets are playing very well this season so far. They are 3-0 with wins against the Cavaliers, Pacers and Nets. They play uptempo basketball with several players able to have big games on any given night. They are coming off a big win over the Nets without Terry Rozier in the lineup. In his absence, Miles Bridges stepped up and had a very big game and is coming off two thirty point games in a row.
Terry Rozier left Friday’s game with a sprained ankle and did not play on Sunday in Brooklyn against the Nets. Terry is listed as out for this game. Kelly Oubre, Jr filled in for him in the starting lineup on Sunday and should start in his place once again in this one. PJ Washington is questionable for this game with knee soreness. Gordon Hayward has had a good start to the season and should also be in the starting lineup for this one against his former team.
Jaylen Brown missed the Celtics game in Houston on Sunday with patella tendinopathy. He is questionable for this game and is listed as a game time decision. If he can’t go, Dennis Schroder, who filled in for him against the Rockets, will likely get the start. Romeo Langford missed the Rockets game due to some calf soreness and is doubtful for this one. Al Horford is listed as questionable due to a strained left adductor and is also a game time decision. If Al can’t play then Grant will likely get the start. Once again, I am thinking positively and including both in the starting lineup.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Jaylen Brown (knee) questionable
Al Horford (hip) questionable
Romeo Langford (calf) doubtful
Probable Hornets Starters
PG: LaMelo Ball
SG: Kelly Oubre, Jr
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Miles Bridges
C: Mason Plumlee
Vernon Carey, Jr
Kelly Oubre, Jr
Terry Rozier (ankle) out
PJ Washington (knee) questionable
Marcus Smart vs LaMelo Ball
Ball has been a star for the Hornets so far. He is averaging 31.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists. Marcus is the starting point guard for the first time in his career and needs to concentrate on keeping the offense moving as well as slowing Ball down with his defense.
Jayson Tatum vs Gordon Hayward
Hayward started the season averaging 22.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in his first two games. He struggled somewhat in his third game, going scoreless in the first half and finishing with just 8 points for the game. He felt that the Celtics didn’t appreciate him and was very happy to leave them for Charlotte. Tatum broke out with 31 points and 9 rebounds against the Rockets and hopefully he can keep his offense on track in this one. Jayson also needs to be ready to defend Hayward well to keep him from having a big game against his former team.
Al Horford vs Miles Bridges
Bridges started the season strong with 21.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in his first two games. He exploded in the third game with 32 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 block. Al came back strong after missing the first game of the season due to covid quarantine and was a bright spot in an otherwise terrible game against the Raptors. He came through again against the Rockets with 17 points and 10 rebounds along with some good defense. If Al is out, Grant Williams will likely get the start and be tasked with slowing down Bridges’ scoring.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning games. The Celtics must commit to playing tough team defense if they hope to win games this season. They have the players to be an elite defensive team, but they need to make defense a priority and every player must commit to playing lock down defense. The Hornets averaged 123 points in their first 3 games and so the Celtics must work on the defensive end to slow them down.
Rebound - Much of rebounding is effort and hustle. The Celtics need to crash the boards as a team and fight for every rebound. When they let teams out-rebound them, they have a blow out loss like the one to the Raptors where they were out-rebounded 60-42. The Celtics must beat the Hornets to rebounds to give themselves extra possessions and to keep the Hornets from getting the same.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have fallen into the habit of letting teams out-work them last season. At one time, the Celtics were able to win games by playing harder than their opponents regardless of the talent on their team. The Celtics must be more aggressive on the boards, on defense, on going for loose balls and they have to be aggressive in going to the basket. The Hornets have been winning by playing hard and being aggressive. The Celtics can’t allow the Hornets to play harder than them.
Take Care of the Ball - Over their first two games, the Celtics averaged 21.5 turnovers per game. They can’t give their opponents that many extra possessions. They need to move the ball, but they have to focus better and make smarter passes. They also have to keep their focus and not make mental errors when handling the ball. They cut their turnovers down to just 11 against the Rockets and they will need to stay focused and limit turnovers again in this game.
Back to Back - The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games. But then, so are the Hornets. The Celtics can’t use fatigue as an excuse for not playing hard and not hustling because both teams had to play the night before and both teams had to travel after Sunday’s game. Hopefully the Celtics are deep enough to be able to have enough fresh legs to play hard both nights.
On the Road - The Hornets have an advantage in that they are at home on the second night of back to back games. The Celtics are playing their second game in a row on the road. They have to focus on playing their game and not allow a hostile crowd or the distractions of playing on the road to affect them.
Health - As always, health can affect the game. For the Celtics, Jaylen Brown is questionable after sitting out Sunday’s game in Houston with tendinitis in his left knee. Terry Rozier is also questionable after sitting out Sunday’s game in Brooklyn with a sprained ankle. If one or both of these players are out, it will make it a little tougher for their teams to get a win.