Game 20 of 82 (24.4%), Wednesday, December 10, 430 PST
Celtics @ Hornets
The Celtics lost to the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Hornets, who have played an exceedingly tough early-season schedule, lost 10 straight games before beating the woeful New York Knicks in the game leading up to the match-up with Boston (more on the Knicks later).
The Hornets have disappointed many in the early going. Many point the blame solely on the enigmatic and erratic Lance Stephenson, who is shooting a miserable 17% from long-range and 39% overall. Charlotte gambled on Marvin Williams in the role of “stretch four.” Williams was signed in order to shoot corner threes and hope to replace the versatility and play-making of Josh McRoberts. That hasn’t worked out so well, in part because ball rotation is what leads to open jumpers in the corner. The Hornets are starting Gerald Henderson at the shooting guard. While Henderson has a decent mid-range game, he doesn’t stretch the defense, with his career 30% 3-point shooting percentage. This year, he’s at 29%. Combine the tough early schedule with the forced half-court offense of Stephenson, and the 10 straight losses make the Hornets appear much worse than they are. Toss in the absence of the defensively-skilled Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, for good measure.
Charlotte’s main man is old friend Al Jefferson. Celtics fans under the age of 40 might be amazed to realize that Jefferson turns 30 in less than a month. Last year, Jefferson led the Hornets to the 7th seed in the East, before injuring his foot in the opening round against Miami. The young Bobcats changed their name back to the Hornets, the franchise hoping to lose the stink of the last ten years previous to 2013-14. A taste of the playoffs, and then adding Lance Stephenson on a very reasonable four year contract.
One thing that seems clear from the first 20 games: Charlotte needs shooting, and Lance benefited greatly from playing alongside Paul George and David West. Lance can still be a dominant off-the-bounce threat, but not when the defense is ever-ready to collapse on the paint.
The frustration starts to mount for Celtics fans after this loss because of the three straight wins and the near-miracle fourth win, the double overtime loss in Washington. Boston stayed without shouting distance of the Hornets in the fourth quarter thanks to Marcus Thornton (13 in the 4th, 16 overall). Rondo’s numbers (12, 10, 10) were solid, but he lacked the spark and the supporting help from Jared Sullinger (2 of 10) and Avery Bradley (2 of 9, and battling the flu). These Celtics aren’t good enough to win without everyone contributing. Marcus Thornton continued his warm shooting, connecting on 3 of 8 from beyond the arc.
Big Al decided he wasn’t going to let his Hornets lose this one to the team that drafted him and traded him to Minnesota in 2007. Jefferson scored 11 points in the game’s final 9 minutes. Celtics big men (Sullinger and Zeller) were schooled by the wise up-and-unders and up-fakes of Big Al. Kevin McHale’s imprint on Jefferson can be seen in the center’s footwork.