With Al Horford sidelined for rest purposes, the Celtics rolled out the same starting lineup they featured against the Knicks on Tuesday: Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis. The group continued to showcase some seriously high upside, and cruised to an easy win over the Charlotte Hornets, 127-99.
Brown led the way this evening with an electric 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field, on a night where the Celtics starters combined for 71 points and each scored in double-figures. Kristaps Porzingis impressed with an impactful two-way effort, scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. For the Hornets, LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier combined for 30 points, but 23 team turnovers made it difficult to keep up with a Boston offense that continues to look dominant.
The Celtics’ core rotation looked like a group ready for the games to count. They held the Hornets scores for a four-minute stretch in the first quarter, racing out to a 34-19 lead heading into the second in almost effortless fashion. Brown found the bottom of the net on a trio of three-pointers in the opening frame, but the team’s active hands on defense provided the story of the first half. They turned over the sloppy Hornets offense 10 times, including three steals from White as part of an inspired defensive effort, and entered the halftime break with a 66-40 advantage.
We know what the core contributors are capable of, obviously, but the final preseason matchup is our last chance to discern where the players on the fringes stand in relation to a roster spot. Tonight, the first players off the bench were Sam Hauser, Payton Pritchard, Neemias Queta and Dalano Banton, and the foursome played all of Boston’s bench minutes until Oshae Brissett checked in with three minutes remaining in the half.
Of the bunch, Pritchard was the most involved, playing 10 minutes and dishing a trio of assists in the half, though he struggled with his shot (1-of-4 from the field, all three-pointers). Banton tacked on a pair of buckets, including a fast-break finish off of a turnover, while Queta brought his typical high-energy but fouled twice and coughed up two turnovers.
The second half began much the same as the first: with the Celtics hitting from three. This time, it was Holiday who opened the scoring, cashing in on a deep attempt from the left wing. Shortly thereafter, White did likewise, hitting his second of the game. Then, it was Porzingis, cashing in on his first. Obvious qualifiers about the preseason and the level of competition aside, the Celtics’ offense looks like it’s going to be formidable.
The question was: how long will Joe Mazzulla keep the starters in the game? Halfway through the third quarter, with the Celtics enjoying an 81-55 lead, we got our answer. Mazzulla substituted an all-bench unit with under six minutes remaining in the quarter, including the first appearance of the night for sharpshooter Svi Mykhailiuk. It was up to the bench to put a cap on the 2023 preseason.
With the starters out of the game, the star of the remainder of the quarter was Queta, who went on a personal 8-2 run to answer a small Charlotte run. On a night where Luke Kornet remained tethered to the bench — perhaps to offer the Celtics a look at their other bigs — the two-way center made a case for himself with 12 points and seven rebounds in 13 minutes. Myhailiuk connected on a pair of three-pointers, Lamar Stevens added 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and Pritchard pushed his assist total to eight, and the Celtics ended their preseason with a 127-99 win.
Next up, the games start to count. The Celtics will kick off their 2023-24 NBA regular season in Madison Square Garden for a showdown with the New York Knicks, Wednesday, October 25 at 7 PM EST on ESPN.