Boston entered tonight winners of 10 straight, but were without Al Horford, and lost Kyrie Irving two minutes into the game after teammate Aron Baynes inadvertently elbowed him in the face. Add in the absence of Gordon Hayward, out since opening night, and the Celtics were without their three best players.
And Charlotte still lost.
But the Hornets took advantage of Irving’s unexpected absence at first, playing well defensively in the first quarter, holding Boston without a field goal for the first seven minutes of the game, and holding them to 26.3 percent from the field in the quarter in route to a 26-11 lead.
But Boston slowed chipped away throughout the second and third quarters, and struck at the right time as the fourth quarter began. They opened the quarter 4-0 run to cut the lead to single digits. Then it got worse, as the Celtics cut it to three with 7:53 remaining. And then it continued to get worse, as they cut it one, then took the lead, then went up by three, then five, and my god, this is demoralizing.
Kemba Walker made 1-for-2 from the foul line to cut it to four. Marcus Morris nearly killed the game off with an open 3-pointer, but missed, and Walker took it to the other end, drawing an And-1 to cut the lead to one.
Charlotte caught a break, as Terry Rozier stepped out of bounds on the ensuing inbounds. The Hornets put the ball in Walker’s hands, but he took a contested mid-range shot that wouldn’t fall. Morris hit a jumper on the other end to make a three point game, then Frank Kaminsky’s inbound pass was deflected to the other end, and time expired as Walker heaved a 90 footer with one hand that sailed into the stands.
I don’t need to explain how tiring this is. After a few early seasons wins gave off the impression they had moved past this, the Hornets showed tonight, and on Tuesday in New York, that they continue to lack the mental fortitude and overall execution to close out games. Whether the blame falls on the players, the coaching staff, or both, it’s inexcusable that it continues to happen.
And yet it does, and as a result, Charlotte goes 0-4 on their first road trip and head back home at 5-7. Have injuries and absences hurt them so far? Absolutely. But it doesn’t excuse tonight or Tuesday, and it certainly doesn’t give me confidence this team has moved past their issues from last season.