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The loss to the Celtics was the season in a nutshell

The Hornets can’t hold on to a fourth quarter lead and get eliminated from playoff contention in loss to the Celtics.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

There was very little hope to begin with before last night’s game against the Boston Celtics, but the Charlotte Hornets ended the season’s hope for a playoff spot early with a 121-114 loss.

The offense was there, the defense was not.

Too often this season, the Hornets dug themselves in a hole early only to fall short in the end, living by the phrase “too little, too late.” That was the case with the 39-point second quarter the Celtics put together to give them a 15-point lead heading into the locker room.

Even then though, the Hornets had a chance to win this one late (why do I feel like I ‘ve written that religiously this season?). Nicolas Batum hit Marvin Williams with a beautiful pass in the corner near the team bench for an open 3-pointer to extend the lead to 104-97 with 6:38 remaining.

They just couldn’t get enough stops when they mattered, and they had no answer for the Celtics’ 24-10 run to close out the game. Again, that’s been the case all season.

In the clutch, which is defined by NBA.com as a five point game under five minutes, the Hornets had the league’s second worst defensive rating of 124.5, only beating out the lowly Los Angeles Lakers. While they had a top five offensive rating in the same parameters, the net rating was still -7.2. To add insult to injury, the Hornets have the second most losses in the clutch with 29.

Tonight, the Boston Celtics also did what nearly every team has done to the Hornets this season: hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer after 3-pointer. On average, opponents have hit 42 percent of their attempts beyond the arc in the clutch, which is the second highest mark in the league.

Not only that, the Hornets have rendered 11.6 3-point makes per game, which surprisingly enough (not) happens to be the most by any team and by quite a margin. Second to last are the Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings who have each given up 10.9 3-point makes per game.

The Celtics hit 17 threes overall and made three-of-four in the last 3:35 of the game. Meanwhile, the Hornets missed five of their last six shots in the same time frame, and closed out the home season with a 22-19 record.

Defense was the biggest reason behind the disappointing season in the eyes of many, including Coach Steve Clifford. Known as a top 10, maybe even top five, defense last year, the Hornets were below the average this time around.

Subsequently, they don’t have the firepower to keep up in high scoring affairs. With last night’s loss, the team’s record is 16-27 when they and their opponent score over 100 points. When the Hornet’s opponent alone scores 100-plus, the team is 15-41. Not good.

Whether the defensive struggles were because of rotations, help-side or defensive rebounding, there were too many stretches in games where the Hornets couldn’t buy a stop. It was the same story too often on offense as well, which is why this team found itself playing catch-up for most of the year.

Even here at the end of the regular season, the Hornets garnered an ounce of hope in making the playoffs, but as the story has gone, it was too little, too late.

Time for the offseason.