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Lessons from Celtics-Hornets: this cannot happen

The Celtics had a lot of excuses built into Monday night’s loss, but none of it explains giving the game away in the closing minutes.

Boston Celtics v Charlotte Hornets Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images

Luke Kornet +26.

That’s the only one stat you need to know to understand how positively pitiful that loss was for the Celtics. I could talk about how four Celtics starters combined for 3-25 from beyond the arc, how Jrue Holiday turned the ball over seven times, or how the Celtics shot a prehistoric 64 percent from the free-throw line. But that just doesn’t do this loss justice.

On the other hand, Kornet serving up a team-high in plus/minus in a game they lost by three hits like a fresh cup of curdled milk on Christmas morning. Kornet was subbed out for Jaylen Brown with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter, and did not reenter the game. At that point, the Celtics were up by eight.

And from that moment on, the Celtics executed a generationally pitiful attempt to close out the game, torpedoing the crunch-time five’s plus/minus numbers as LaMelo Ball cashed bucket after bucket to hand the Celtics by far their worst loss of the year.

Please direct any and all excuses to the excuses box, because I’m not going to sit here and sugarcoat it. The Celtics made every mistake in the book, and dusted off their tried-and-true methods of losing games. Three-point shooting? Terrible. Turnovers? You know it. Horrific decision-making? Book it.

Oh, sorry. Was it the final game of a road trip, second night of a back-to-back, without Derrick White or Al Horford? Was it, per chance, a trap game? Nope, not today. File all that away in the excuse box, which will be thrown into the ocean along with this game following a 24-hour grace period.

Because an excuse is not the same thing as a permission. Sure, all of that explains why the Celtics lost, but under no circumstances does that make the complete buffoonery that lost this game okay.

I can tell you exactly when I said the words “we are going to lose this game” to the four friends that were watching this train-wreck-in-slow-motion alongside me. It was with 1:10 left in the fourth quarter, when Jaylen Brown was forced into a heavily contested three at the end of the shot clock, with the Celtics nursing a four-point lead.

This abomination of a possession saw four counts of hoping someone else bailed them out. I felt like I was watching the 2021 NBA Finals, because suddenly I saw five green jerseys terrified to shoot the basketball.

Despite 45 points from Jayson Tatum—who continues to average over 40 points per game against the Hornets—the rest of the squad was completely unable to get into their game. Save for Payton Pritchard, who managed season-highs in scoring and triples, here’s the laundry list of failure from Monday night.

Sam Hauser, who started in place of White and came into tonight leading the NBA in three-point percentage, managed to make just one of his nine attempts. Kristaps Porzingis was passable but missed way too many shots in the fourth quarter and OT, and Jrue Holiday made some of the worst decisions imaginable in several key spots.

Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown traded ball and man movement for tunnel vision and bricks. He looked like he was playing football half the time, forcing the issue in the lane with varying degrees of success. Brown didn’t have it all night, but I’m hesitant or really blame him for taking what were often good shots.

It’s one thing for me, a spectator, to say he “didn’t have it,” when he probably felt quite differently in the moment. At the end of the day, you live and die with your best players taking shots. What I don’t want to live and die with is stuff like this:

I can’t overstate how devastating these missed free throws were. Holiday had a chance to ice the game and go up by four when the Celtics were staring down crack-shot LaMelo Ball who was unable to miss. Instead, the Celtics messed around with a two-point lead and found out.

Deep breaths.

Look, it’s the 13th game of the regular season, so I’d usually have a bit more chill than this coming off a pretty explainable loss. Sure, maybe last season I could take an end-of-road-trip loss to the Hornets on the chin. But not this year.

I am an emotional person, largely incapable of a rational reaction when the Celtics blow a game, however meaningless. Closing games is a skill, and not one that can be messed around with. LaMelo Ball should not be the best player on the floor down the stretch, and the Celtics must be more professional and surgical than that.

My expectations for the season are such that this kind of thing is not going to fly. Apologies for the drama.

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