It’s tiring to point out the same issues repeatedly, but the Charlotte Hornets once again struggled on the defensive end in last night’s 108-98 loss to the Boston Celtics. Specifically, the Hornets struggled defending in the first and fourth quarters, allowing 34 and 27 points, respectively. This is nothing new, however, as Charlotte ranks 21st in points allowed in the first quarter this season, and 22nd in the fourth. Additionally, they struggled defending the 3-point line, which is something that has also plagued them to this point.
Charlotte’s struggles started right after tip off. After scoring the opening basket, the Celtics went on a 10-0 run, creating an early hole for the Hornets. While Charlotte was able to come back and hold the lead for parts of the first, the quarter became a back and forth on offense, with little defense played by either team. Despite scoring 30 points, Charlotte found themselves down four entering the second.
The first quarter provided yet another example of where the Hornets are as a team. Offensively, they are surprising better in many categories than a season ago, but this progress is undermined by an inability to get stops. And while Charlotte’s offense is a bit better, it doesn’t rank nearly high enough that can get away with defensive lapses. While trailing by just four wasn’t the worst spot to be in, the offensive efficiency was unlikely to sustain itself.
That proved true in the middle quarters. While Charlotte managed to be better defensively in the second and third, their offense let them down, particularly in the third, where they totaled just 18 points. They entered the fourth quarter down 9, putting themselves in a tough spot given how good Isaiah Thomas has been in the fourth. Thomas would punish them, scoring 18 of his 35 in the fourth quarter, knocking down four of his seven total 3-pointers in the quarter alone.
Thomas’ seven 3’s highlighted the other defensive issue — perimeter defense. Teams are making and taking the second highest amount of 3-pointers per game against them, and are averaging almost 33 points a game just from perimeter shots. Boston finished well above the average, finishing 15-39 from the 3-point line.
Many of Boston’s 3-pointer came as a result of Charlotte over-committing on drivers. In the clip below, watch as Jae Crowder finds himself wide open from beyond the arc:
As Thomas gets by Walker attacking the hoop, all five Charlotte defenders collapse into the paint, and yet Thomas still finds Kelly Olynyk under the hoop. The problem starts before the pass, however, as Cody Zeller didn’t rotate over quick enough, leaving Frank Kaminsky to step forward, which allowed Olynyk to slip behind. Now Olynyk has the ball under the basket with all five Hornets in the paint. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has committed to stopping the layup, but by doing so has left Crowder wide open at the perimeter.
Bad rotations hurt them throughout the game, as seen by this fourth quarter make by Thomas:
Marcus Smart uses a screen to attack the hoop, and Spencer Hawes does a terrible job sliding over, which forces Kaminsky to rotate down to prevent the layup. Smart finds Jonas Jerekbo open in the corner, who quickly rotates it over to Thomas for the open 3.
Boston also did a good job of creating open shots through screens. Note that this was the first play of the fourth quarter, with the Hornets already trailing by 9:
Here, the Celtics run a set using dribble hand-offs, and by screening the trailing defender. While its a well run offensive play, the Hornets do not get over the screens quickly enough, which leads to the made 3-pointer.
Steve Clifford emphasizes defending the paint, and its been largely successful. That said, he will need to adjust how his team defends it, particularly when opponents attack the rim. Last night the Hornets over committed to drivers, and didn’t rotate well enough. Boston exploited it, and got the shots they wanted. To get back to being a top 10 defense, the Hornets must improve their perimeter defense, and become a better defensive team in the first and fourth quarters. While these issues are fixable, its worrying that through 41 games they seem to be only getting worse.