What: Charlotte Hornets (24-20) at Boston Celtics (23-22)
When: 7:30 PM EST
Where: TD Garden; Boston, Mass.
How to watch: ESPN
BOS: Aaron Nesmith: questionable (right ankle sprain), Marcus Smart: questionable (health protocols).
CHA: Kelly Oubre Jr.: questionable (health protocols).
The Celtics and Hornets are two of the best teams in the league as of late, both going 7-3 in the last 10 games with a net rating that ranks inside the top-10. Boston is 15th in offense and fourth in defense over that stretch, compared to 22nd and sixth-place rankings on the season. Charlotte, on the other hand, has dropped back offensively (18th) in exchange for a seventh-place defense. The Celtics aren’t up to par with preseason expectations yet, but they are playing their best ball of the season. Thankfully, so are the Hornets.
Conducted by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Boston’s offense has one primary feature; isolation. They run the fourth-most isolation sets (9.2 percent) in the NBA, with 10.1 possessions per game ending in a one-on-one and rank 12th in points per possession on those plays. Tatum and Brown are elite scorers and improved playmakers — isolation sets aren’t the problem, but the lack of shooting surrounding the two wings has allowed opposing defenses to collapse without much fear of repercussion.
Beyond the Tatum-Brown duo, Robert Williams III has been the Celtics’ best player. He’s proven to be one of the NBA’s elite shot-blockers, ranking fourth in block percentage — and of the three players above him, Williams has the highest defensive box plus-minus. On the offensive end, he’s got better vision as a passer and is shooting a career-high 74.4 percent from the field, resulting in career-highs of 10 points and 1.8 assists per game.
Josh Richardson and Grant Williams are both 40 percent shooters from deep this season. Al Horford and Marcus Smart have been excellent defenders in spite of some tough sledding in the scoring department. Dennis Schröder can beat his man to the lane at will, finish in traffic and is shooting a respectable 35 percent from distance but the Celtics haven’t been able to consistently find a winning recipe with him on the floor in crunch time.
Charlotte’s defense has been much improved lately but it’d be hard to believe anyone’s forgotten how quickly opposing teams can heat up against the Hornets defense when they don’t bring it. The Celtics are a bottom-10 three-point shooting team, but they do have top-end talent that’s capable of beating teams by themselves when they get hot. Potentially having Oubre back to counter that would be a nice bonus. Hornets PR should give an update his status sometime this afternoon.
Ya boy (me) will be live at TD Garden in Boston for tonight’s game. First time I’ll be seeing LaMelo Ball play in-person. Both of these teams are on a roll right now, and Celtics-Hornets has been a good matchup over the last few seasons. Excited would be an understatement.