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Hornets eliminated from playoff contention by Celtics, 121-114

Charlotte blows comeback lead, ending game (and season) full of wasted opportunities

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

The last home game of the season for the Charlotte Hornets might as well have been a metaphor for their entire season. It was a rollercoaster of a game that highlighted glaring inefficiencies, showed promise in glimpses of what could have been, while ultimately falling short when it mattered most. The Hornets blew a late comeback lead against the Boston Celtics, losing 121 – 114, officially eliminating them from playoff contention.

Both teams looked disorganized early in the first quarter with each team struggling to move the ball with any fluidity. Poor passing led to some ugly turnovers by both teams as each squad looked to find their footing in the game.

Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas and his teammates got going in the latter half of the first quarter. The Celtics went 5 – 8 from three, and Thomas broke out in the last few minutes of the first, putting up eight quick points, including a pair of acrobatic layups that have become a staple of his game. Thomas led all scorers with 32 points, adding six assists and two rebounds to his totals.

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

Things started to get interesting in the second quarter, though, on the court and on the sidelines. The Celtics continued their hot shooting from the end of the first quarter to go on a 13 – 0 run that extended into the start of the second quarter. Boston’s solid three-point shooting paired with their high shooting percentage across the board saw them build a significant lead going into the half. They shot 63 percent from the field, and made 11 – 21 three-pointers to take a commanding 17-point lead into the break, 71 – 54. But the Hornets didn’t stumble into the half quietly. Well, the coaching staff didn’t at least.

Whether it was the Celtics shooting their way to a 71-point first half, a total lack of defense by Charlotte, some questionable calls by the referees that went against the Hornets, or all of the above, Coach Steve Clifford was left fuming on the sideline. Clifford couldn’t contain his frustrations, as he argued with the referees repeatedly in the last few minutes of the first half. After some choice words that could be heard throughout the stadium, Clifford picked up his second technical foul in a two-minute span that earned him his first ejection of the season, and of his career.

As the first half came to a close, the Hornets looked dejected, as if they already knew their season was coming to an abrupt end.

However, Charlotte came out in the third quarter and finally started to get going on both ends of the floor. Their defense went from nonexistent to serviceable, and their ball movement improved drastically. Their shots started to fall, and slowly but surely the Hornets cut the deficit down to single digits. Charlotte looked invigorated, with Nicolas Batum leading the charge and finishing the game with 31 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists – tying his season high in points. As always, Kemba Walker showed flashes of brilliance as well, finishing the game with 23 points and 8 assists, including this nasty stepback jumper over Cody Zeller’s brother, Tyler.

The Hornets momentum was palpable in the Spectrum Center as the fourth quarter began. Batum and Jeremy Lamb were keys to Charlotte’s early fourth quarter dominance as the team made each of their opening six shots to take a 101 – 97 lead. A Marvin Williams three-pointer off a Batum assist extended Charlotte’s lead to 104 – 97 with 6 minutes left to play. It looked as if the Hornets postseason hopes were still a possibility.

Like much of this season, this game was marred by what ifs and should haves for the Hornets. As Charlotte gained the 7-point advantage, they immediately proceeded to squander it in the next few minutes, allowing the Celtics to go on a 9 – 0 run to recover their lead. Boston never looked back, ending the Hornets comeback and officially eliminating any small chance they had of making the playoffs.

The Hornets were an enigma this season. The promise they showed in the first half of the season proves they can contend with almost anyone on any given night. Yet the second half of the season proved how little it takes to completely derail this team from success. Often in the same game the Hornets would look competent and inconsistent, cohesive and discombobulated. Tonight was no different, and so maybe it’s fitting that this game was a reflection of Charlotte’s season – a lost opportunity.