After an encouraging 9-3 stretch of basketball, the Boston Celtics looked to be turning a corner in the month of April. In traveling to Charlotte for a contest against the fellow Eastern Conference Playoffs hopeful Hornets, though, their encouraging progress took a setback. The Celtics looked listless, leading for just 15 seconds in the entire afternoon, and the Hornets piled on the points to hand Boston a brutal 125-104 defeat.
Kemba Walker (20 points, 7-of-17 shooting) looked spry despite a second quarter injury scare, and Marcus Smart (17, 3-of-7 three-pointers) scored 10 straight points in the third quarter to keep the Celtics competitive, but they had no answer for Charlotte’s blistering offense. The Hornets saw four players (Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, Devonte’ Graham and old friend Terry Rozier) score at least 20 points on the afternoon, dished 40 assists and connected on a whopping 21 threes (49% from deep) to bury the Celtics.
It was a disjointed start to the game for Boston, to say the least. Charlotte could do no wrong offensively to start the game. The Hornets connected on nine of their first ten shots to open the game, rushing out to an early 21-8 advantage behind a barrage of three-point jumpers. The Celtics, meanwhile, displayed a distinct lack of energy on both ends of the court — including, notably, a terribly lazy pass attempt from Tatum to Walker that led to an easy fast break dunk for Rozier. They entered the second quarter trailing Charlotte by 10, 33-23.
The slow start was especially evident for Jaylen Brown in his return to the lineup after missing the last two games with shoulder bursitis. He was aggressive looking for his shot in the first half, but struggled to find the bottom of the net, making just two of his first 10 shots on the afternoon. His malaise continued into the second quarter, as it did for the rest of the Celtics’ roster. The energetic Hornets offense kept the Celtics on their heels, gradually stretching their lead as high as 19 points as the quarter wore on, before entering the halftime break with an 11-point edge, 63-52.
Concerningly, Kemba Walker appeared to tweak his lower back in the early minutes of the second quarter, jogging directly back to the Celtics’ locker room. Though the cause for his departure was unclear, his absence was short-lived. He checked back into the game late in the second quarter, but appeared to have some discomfort after a hard landing after being fouled on a layup just before halftime.
The Celtics opened the third quarter with a bit of life, cutting Charlotte’s lead down to single digits for the first time since the two minute mark of the first quarter. Charlotte’s offense stayed red hot, but the Celtics found a few lineups that gave them some juice — led by some savvy two-way play from Smart and Brown — and kept the Hornets within striking distance. What modest gains they made, however, were erased as the clock hit zero; Bridges cashed in on an incredible buzzer-beating three-pointer, and Charlotte enjoyed a 12-point lead entering the final quarter, 100-88.
As the fourth quarter kicked off, it didn’t take long for Charlotte to bring the matchup back under their control. Seemingly in the blink of an eye, the Hornets’ lead was back to 16 after a quick couple buckets in the first two minutes of the quarter. Despite a lot of time left on the clock, the Celtics never realistically challenged Charlotte the rest of the way. Brad Stevens emptied the bench in the closing minutes, and Boston’s record fell to 32-29.
Next up, the Celtics return home to the TD Garden for a matchup with the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder, this coming Tuesday at 7 PM EST on NBC Sports Boston.