Heading into Monday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets, you could be forgiven for feeling overconfident. After all, LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward are both missing from the Hornets rotation, while Terry Rozier is recovering from sickness. However, Boston isn’t at full strength either, as Al Horford is sitting out the contest while Jaylen Brown appears to be a game-time decision.
Regardless of who participates in the game, we’re still going to witness a hyper-efficient Celtics offense, going up against a Hornets team that’s struggling to find some consistency, but will be playing with a fire in their belly as they bid to turn the tide on their disappointing start to the season. With that said, here are my three tickets to triumph.
Make Charlotte take 3’s
The Hornets have the worst conversion rate on above the break 3’s in the NBA, hitting just 30.2% of their attempts. As such, the Celtics would be wise to funnel Charlotte’s toward the top of the perimeter and then pressure shooters into taking uncomfortable shots.
Digging on drives, forcing ball-handlers towards the sidelines, and ensuring wings pinch on penetration are all good ways to ensure the Hornets begin to feel the pressure when looking to get downhill, and hopefully, will encourage them to look for perimeter creation instead — which would be playing directly into Joe Mazzulla’s hands.
Furthermore, without Hayward, and Dennis Smith Jr., only Theo Maledon projects to be a threat from 3, everyone else on Charlotte’s roster is shooting below 35%, which speaks volumes to their lack of spacing and how hard they’ve been hit by injuries and a crisis of confidence.
Unleash the PP
Pritchard's exceptional performance against the Sacramento Kings on Friday deserves to be rewarded, and what better way than unleashing him against the Hornets and letting him cook for extended minutes? After all, if Jaylen Brown sits, there will be some minutes available. If Mazzulla rejigs his rotations, Pritchard could get a significant opportunity to build on his recent performance.
We all know that Pritchard's deep range, and love of pushing the pace fit well into Mazzulla’s offensive system, and the fact that he’s a willing screener — which causes no end of mismatches when screening for bigger guys (inverted screening) — only helps Boston’s cause in getting their slashers additional opportunities to take guys off the dribble.
Charlotte's defense is ranked 11th in the NBA, so forcing them to defend in space, rather than allowing them opportunities to set up in the halfcourt makes a ton of sense, and when you want to play fast, P-Rabbit is your guy.
Stay focused on offense
Over the last two weeks, the Hornets are ranked 4th in defensive rating, meaning the Celtics might find it hard to break them down throughout the game. As such, Boston will need to remain disciplined, trust their offensive principles, and be willing to score on secondary and tertiary opportunities.
If Boston reverts to old habits, and let their heads drop, or gets suckered into trying to win the game with overzealous jump shots, it could be a long night for them. After all, even a 30th-ranked offense can punish you when they’re out running in transition.
Luckily, those old habits seem to be a thing of the past (fingers crossed), which should allow the Celtics to go into the game and remain poised, regardless of how Charlotte is looking to defend in the halfcourt.
I’m happy the Celtics are looking to slot in some rest for Tatum and Brown wherever possible, especially given their high minutes in recent weeks. Brad Stevens has done a brilliant job in reshaping this roster since moving into the front office, and now, the Celtics have enough strength in depth that resting players doesn’t result in a scheduled loss.
I’m expecting to see a big offensive night from Brogdon, Derrick White, and Tatum, with some Pritchard, sprinkled in for good measure, en route to another Celtics victory, stretching their current win streak to four straight games.