Coming so close to finally getting the team fully healthy, you’d have to forgive Celtics fans for being disappointed in the team’s lackluster 125-104 loss to the Hornets on Sunday afternoon. Only Robert Williams remains on the injury report with some knee swelling while the Hornets were missing LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, and Malik Monk, but even the returns of Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown to the starting lineup couldn’t get Boston a split of their two-game road trip.
“We got outplayed and outcoached,” Brad Stevens said.
“The toughest team sets the rules of the game and they set it right from the opening tip and we were on our heels the whole night.”
Since the NBA trade deadline, the Celtics have rarely been reeling this much in a game. During an 11-4 stretch, they sported the fifth best defense in the league and had re-committed their offense to ball movement and sharing the ball, despite missing multiple games from Evan Fournier, Tristan Thompson, and Robert Williams.
They rocketed up the standings as high as the #4 seed in the East, but a nine-game winning streak by the New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks matching Boston game-for-game has the Celtics teetering between a week of rest to start the playoffs and slugging it out in the play-in tournament. You’d think that they’d step up in a game against a Hornets team that’s nipping at their heels in the standings.
After missing the last two games with shoulder bursitis, Jaylen Brown returned with 20 points and eight rebounds. It was a solid performance, but not enough to overcome 21-of-43 from behind the arc and 39 assists on 47 field goals by Charlotte. But during his postgame press conference, Brown had the calm of a veteran and the foresight of a player who knows that a regular season loss means little in the grand scheme of things. Brown, like Stevens, was quick to acknowledge Charlotte’s play and dismissed his team’s flat performance.
“Like I said, I think they just played really well. They moved the ball. We weren’t as prepared to play as they were. They came out of the gate with a better energy than us,” Brown said. “There are nights like that. We think, for the most part, we’ve been playing some good basketball. I just think the heart of the Hornets just came out and they really got it going and once you get it going, you know how hard it is to stop.”
Brown is all too familiar with what it’s like to be on fire. Earlier this month against the Lakers, Brown hit a ridiculous 17-of-20 from the field for an ultra-efficient 40 points. In January, he scored 33 points in 19 minutes against the Cavaliers.
“I think we just move on to the next game. Obviously, we didn’t play as good as we expected. The Hornets played extremely well. I think we’ve played good basketball over the last few weeks. We’ve had some guys out and things like that, but we really had it rolling. I think that we put this in mind and move forward,” Brown said.
“I think in the last few weeks, we’ve played extremely well and this game is just being held to our past because we’ve been up or down in the past, but we’re always looking toward the future. I think the Hornets played extremely well tonight, but I don’t seem them getting 40 assists in their next game. We’ll see them in a couple of days, so we’ll see.”
The Hornets visit TD Garden on Wednesday night.