When: Sunday December 22, 6:00 pm EST
Where: TD Garden; Boston, MA
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast
After giving the Utah Jazz, a tough Western Conference opponent everything they could handle last night at home, the Hornets fly to Boston for the second night of a back-to-back and take on an even-tougher Eastern Conference opponent in the Celtics.
As we all know, the Boston Celtics employ one of Charlotte’s most beloved figures in recent memory and a true representative of everything the city embodies; Grant Williams. The Providence Day School alum has been a stout defender off the bench this year and is coming off of a career-high 18-point game in Boston’s shorthanded blowout win against the Pistons on Friday. As a result of the Celtics being without all-NBA defender Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, Robert Williams, and Vincent Poirier (who is out with a broken finger and has given himself the nickname of “Vinnie Sex Finger”), Grant will be seeing a lot more playing time in upcoming games, and he’s already taking advantage of it by making double the amount of three-pointers in his short career (four) than Ben Simmons has made since 2017 (two).
The Boston Celtics also employ Kemba Walker, who was arguably more famous in Charlotte over the last nine years. He’s leading their team in points (22.6) and assists per game (5.4), while converting on 40.5% of shots from beyond the arc. He scored just two points against Detroit, but dished out 11 assists. He has six 30-point games on the season. He has been playing very well in Boston and he seems to really enjoy being around young stars like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. We wish him the utmost most success in his future endeavors.
Speaking of Tatum and Brown, both of which are the reason the Celtics have stayed among the top teams in the East after being expected to regress following the departures of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier and Aron Baynes. “The Jays” are both near-locks for the All-Star Game. Tatum averages 21 points and 6.9 rebounds while shooting 35.2% on seven threes per game. Brown is putting up 19.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game on 37.7% from beyond the arc and a career-high 76.1% from the free-throw line. Both have improved substantially from last season and appear primed to carry Boston for years to come with Kemba guiding them as their wise veteran.
Also; Kemba just got everyone on the Celtics a customized Xbox One for Christmas. I bet some of his former teammates wish he had that endorsement deal when he was a Hornet.
Kemba Walker bought the team personalized Xbox Ones for Xmas and they are Poirier approved. pic.twitter.com/PhCXja0SdF— Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) December 21, 2019
Most importantly, this is the night where Terry Rozier makes his triumphant return to the city where he spent the first four years of his NBA career. The former Celtic had his “Scary Terry” breakout run as their starting point guard in the 2017-2018 playoffs, and this is the first regular-season game he’s played there since the sign-and-trade last July (he did go back for a pre-season game in October). Two games removed from his career-high 35-point night against Cleveland and one night after he put 29 on the Jazz, Terry should be matched up with his old pal Jaylen Brown for most of the evening. It probably won’t be the easiest night for him since Brown is 6’7” and Terry is 6’1”, but Scary Terry always shows up in the big moments (DISCLAIMER: He likely went to the clubs in Boston last night with his old teammates so if he lays an egg tonight, blame it on the hangover. You’ll learn quickly that Terry is a BIG club guy).
The injury report for the Hornets has lightened up considerably. Marvin Williams (knee), Nic Batum (hand), and Malik Monk (hip) are all good to go for a second-straight contest after being banged up recently. PJ Washington remains out through Christmas with a broken pinky finger.
The Celtics’ injury report has not lightened up at all. Marcus Smart (eye), Gordon Hayward (foot), Robert Williams (hip), and Vincent Poirier (finger), will all be out against the Hornets. The Celtics as a whole have been decimated by injuries all year, with their “best five” (Kemba/Brown/Tatum/Hayward/Smart) only being entirely healthy for a handful of games. But, they’re still the second-best team in the East at 19-7.
Devonte’ Graham’s 40-point outburst against Brooklyn has been followed by a series of lackluster performances, including a nine-point, 3-for-16 FG game against the Cavaliers. He looked slightly better last night, but dropping 22 points doesn’t sound as good when it takes him 22 shots to do so. James Borrego has talked about it in his interviews lately, but teams are starting to get film on Graham and figure him out, which was bound to happen at some point to a breakout second-year player. He gets a lot more traps and double teams thrown at him in the half-court, and he’s struggling to find his own shot as he draws the opponent’s best perimeter defender on a nightly basis. The Celtics’ guards struggle the most with defending off-ball screens and movement. Borrego could try and get Devonte’ more looks with him off the ball (elevator screens, pin-downs on the wing, etc.) while Terry handles the ball to make his life easier and have him settling for contested step-back threes less often.
Due to their injuries, Boston’s interior play will likely be just as bad as the Hornets’ is. Enes Kanter is statistically one of the the worst defenders in the NBA despite being an elite rebounder, and Daniel Theis and Grant can’t do it all themselves. Kanter is horrifically bad in close-outs and PnR coverage, so look for Devonte’/Terry and Cody/Biz to attack him in that regard. If there were ever a time for Cody to test out his newfound three-point range, it’s while Kanter is on the floor this evening.
The Hornets played a half of high-caliber basketball against the Jazz last night, but they tailed off down the stretch. That’ll happen against good teams. They don’t even have to win this game, as long as they give a semblance of the effort they showed last night. On the second night of a back-to-back after arriving in Boston around midnight at the earliest, a win would be a wild overachievement. I don’t expect it to be an easy game by any means because the Hornets don’t match up well with the Celtics, but as is the case with a rebuilding team (people forget the Hornets are still doing that), just look for the bright spots. Displaying effort on what seems like a scheduled loss would be a bright spot.
P.S. It’s a shame Smart is out and won’t get to play against his 24-year-old carbon copy in Cody Martin. I’ve seen a lot of Celtics games and the way those two play is eerily similar. Activity and aggressiveness on defense is off-the-charts.
P.S.S. I really hope we get some Tacko Time. Tacko is a great guy and a fun player to watch. I live in Portland, Maine (where he lives when he’s assigned to the Maine Red Claws of the G-League) and he’s already the most famous person in the state. I was at the Hornets’ pre-season game in Boston and when he came in for the first time, it felt like a playoff atmosphere. Tacko is an electric factory and everyone loves him so much that it got the extremely stoic Brad Stevens to break character on Friday when the fans nearly blew the roof off of the Garden. Check it out: