Final, Hornets 97-78: The Celtics are winless in their first three games, and an upcoming stretch of six home games in their next seven contests never looked so good.
Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry torched Boston, which apart from a couple solid performances by Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, had nothing to offer in its third game in four days.
Jack had 21 points in 38:20, shooting 8-for-17 almost entirely off floaters. He added nine assists and one turnover while chipping in four rebounds and two blocked shots.
Landry posted his usual all-around stat line with 20 points, 11 rebounds and one block in 29:16.
Rondo scored 13 points and had six assists in 34:22, but he struggled with his ball control in the second half and turned the ball over four times. Allen scored 15 points but took only 10 shots in the 29:38 he spent on the floor.
Teams with multiple big men with a range of styles are going to give the Celtics fits. Chris Kaman, Emeka Okafor, Landry and even Jason Smith challenged Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal and Brandon Bass, who did not have the mobility to bang with the Hornets down low or get out on players like Okafor, Kaman and Smith who can knock down short jumpers.
Garnett and O'Neal combined for 10 points, 13 rebounds and six fouls, although in fairness to O'Neal, all of his fouls were debatable.
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Fourth quarter, 2:15, Hornets 95-74: There will be no comeback on this night.
O'Neal picks up foul No. 4 and Okafor hits both free throws for an 88-71 New Orleans lead. Things only get worse from there for the Celtics after checking in JaJuan Johnson, Moore, Stiemsma and Avery Bradley to share the court with Daniels. An Ariza 3 puts the Hornets up 21 and the Celtics are 135 seconds from being 0-3.
Fourth quarter, 6:23, Hornets 85-67: This is what happens when you talk as much trash as Garnett and your man drills a jumper in your face.
Landry launched into a monologue after drilling and 18-footer against Garnett, and as the Celtics retreated to their bench with an 18-point disadvantage, he kept letting Garnett know about it.
The starters could do nothing to slow the Hornets after returning to the floor, giving up baskets on back-to-back possessions.
Fourth quarter, 8:00, Hornets 81-67: Stiemsma is a nice 12-minute option in the post, but entering his 17th minute of game action, the holes in his game are getting exposed.
Stiemsma failed to block out Kaman, leading to an easy putback for the veteran big man. In a reflection of this being the third game in four nights, Rivers went with a lineup of Rondo, E'Twaun Moore, Dooling, Bass and Stiemsma.
With the crazy schedule this season, expect to see plenty of lineups like this in the next 63 games.
End third, Hornets 72-63: No matter how much of a run the Celtics put together, they can't seem to get any closer than three possessions.
A bench-heavy unit of Bass, Stiemsma, Dooling, Allen and Rondo were able to get some energetic offensive boards and draw a few fouls, but nothing to put up a sustained threat. Jack hasn't let up and has 19 points heading into the final quarter. Rondo leads the Celtics in scoring with 13 points.
Third quarter, 2:04, Hornets 69-61: The Celtics went to a zone defense, but it didn't work anywhere close to as well as it did in Miami. The Hornets are a better 3-point shooting team as a group, and when they didn't let it fly from deep then pump-faked and dribbled into the lane. Belinelli took one 3 from about 27 feet away that he buried to give New Orleans a 15-point advantage.
Doc Rivers made an interesting decision when O'Neal picked up his third personal with 8:02 left in the quarter; he didn't sub O'Neal out. Given an extra few minutes, O'Neal seemed to get more in the flow defensively, although he didn't score or grab a rebound. He challenged a couple shots and was able to bother Kaman enough for Garnett to come over and block Kaman's shot from behind.
Rondo's dribble drives shredded the Hornets and pulled the Celtics within eight, leading to a timeout by New Orleans. Rondo's penetration enabled him to dish to Stiemsma for a tough layup. Rondo finished the next one on his own to cut the Hornets' lead to 69-61.
Third quarter, 9:17, Hornets 56-44: Jack is the latest guard to challenge the Celtics' bigs. He got into the lane three times in the early moments of the second half, twice finishing himself and once finding Okafor for a short-range shot.
Jump shots by Allen and Pavlovic helped stem the bleeding a little, but for the third straight game it appears to Celtics will have to work their way back after digging a huge second-half hole.
Halftime, Hornets 48-39: Greg Stiemsma played inspired basketball and, if he's not careful, is going to play his way into a lot more minutes for the Celtics.
Stiemsma played nine minutes in the first half, but it was the final minute or so when he really made his presence felt. He stayed low, then leapt to block a Jason Smith jumper on the baseline and used his left hand to block what appeared to be an easy dunk for Kaman.
This is not a joke, and Stiemsma is not just a nice one-trick pony like old friend Brian Scalabrine. He's looking like a legitimate second-string big man.
Now the good, the bad and the so-so.
The Good: Rajon Rondo is on his way to a third excellent performance. He has eight points and three assists in 17:02, but most importantly he has no turnovers. He made a layup in traffic at the halftime buzzer to pull the Celtics within single digits. … Sasha Pavlovic is playing his best game of the young season. With four points on 2-for-3 shooting, three rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots, Pavlovic is playing far better than his minus-5 rating. (How many times do I have to tell you not to pay attention to that misplaced hockey stat?) In a departure from the norm, he has just one personal foul. … The Hornets free throw shooters. As a team, New Orleans in 13-of-15 from the charity stripe.
The Bad: Jermaine O'Neal's foul trouble will keep limiting his contributions in all other areas. He has two fouls in 12:59, which is a slight improvement from the Miami game, but he has nonetheless had to play hesitantly on defense and on the boards. … The failure by the Celtics to get to the line isn't something they can accept and try to deal with. They need to improve it, and they are not getting to basket aggressively again. They are 6-of-7 on foul shots. Only Keyon Dooling, who is 5-for-5 from the line for all his scoring, has been capable of getting to the line.
The So-so: Jarrett Jack is example number a billion why Rondo's critics in Boston need to watch more hoops. Every time a Toney Douglas, Jerryd Bayless, Mario Chalmers or Jarrett Jack does something un-point-guard-like, Rondo's unconventional game seems that much more impressive. Jack has eight points on 2-of-8 shooting with five assists and two steals, although his zero in the turnovers column puts him in the "so-so" category.
Second quarter, 4:04, Hornets 38-30: With nearly eight minutes gone in the second quarter, the Celtics got their first free throw attempt when Rondo drew a shooting foul going to the hoop on Okafor.
Rondo only puts down one of two, however, possibly out of sheer surprise that someone in green was at the line.
Second quarter, 5:03, Hornets 36-29: Daniels and O'Neal are working hard in the post, gobbling up four offensive rebounds combined, but finishing is more of a problem. Daniels' difficult is obvious, being 6-foot-6. O'Neal just doesn't seem to have the lift to get over Landry or even Ariza and Okafor.
Vasquez continues to fend off the Celtics, floating home his second basket of the game to return the Hornets' lead to seven points.
Second quarter, 7:45, Hornets 30-24: A floater by Greivus Vasquez gave the Hornets their largest lead at 30-20, but Marquis Daniels went into attack mode. A putback of his own miss, followed by a layup off a post entry feed from KG, halts what had been a 17-4 Hornets run.
Second quarter, 10:36, Hornets 28-20: That was interesting. The 24-second clock sounded, but while one referee had a shot clock violation, another had a foul (presumably on O'Neal).
The refs put their heads together, looked at the monitor and ruled that O'Neal hacked Landry before the buzzer. Landry went to the line and hit both free throws.
End first quarter, Hornets 24-18: Brandon Bass came off the bench and right away did some good things offensively, as he has a tendency to do.
A strong first step from the foul line allowed him to beat Chris Kaman for a two-handed stuff, and an in-rhythm jumper barely flicked the net on its way through. The culprit in his two misses, though, was hesitation, as he thought twice before taking both shots and missed both as a result.
Boston's smaler lineup, with Garnett at center and Bass at power forward, had difficulty on the defensive glass. Kaman and Landry were each able to score on putbacks, allowing New Orleans to take control.
A disturbing stat for the Celtics: They had zero free throw attempts in the first quarter. Foul shot disparity was an issue against the Heat and Knicks. The Hornets were 5-of-7 in the quarter.
First quarter, 5:58, Hornets 10-9: There's good news and bad news. The bad news is that O'Neal, who spent the first two games in foul trouble, was the victim of a questionable call while muscling down low with Okafor.
The good news is that it gave us the opportunity for a Greg Stiemsma sighting, and Stiemsma made an immediate impact by blocking a dunk attempt by Okafor.
Allen hasn't been as sharp as Stiemsma. (One million dollars to anyone who predicted that sentence would ever be written.) After knocking down his first 3-pointer, Allen has missed three straight shots and threw a poor cross-court pass that Jack picked off for a fastbreak layup to give the Hornets their first lead.
First quarter, 8:23, Celtics 9-2: Two of the Celtics most maligned starters got off to good starts.
Jermaine O'Neal rolled with authority to the hoop after setting a ball screen for Rondo, who found O'Neal for a two-handed dunk.
Then Pavlovic, who has been heavily criticized (including in this space) caused a deflection on Landry and leaked out for an open jump shot on the secondary break. He then beat the Hornets down the floor for a fastbreak layup.
First quarter, 10:45, Celtics 3-0: Pavlovic chipped in something positive, getting a hand on a short jumper by Jack and helping the Celtics force a shot-clock violation.
Ray Allen, who apparently didn't cool off after Tuesday, swished a 3-pointer to open up the scoring.
8 p.m.: Jarrett Jack makes his return to the lineup for the Hornets after missing a game due to a suspension as a result of a DUI last season. Jack held the second-longest streak of consecutive games played at 371 straight games before the suspension.
Not having Gordon is a big blow for the Hornets, but Jack's suspension may have allowed them to employ a stronger lineup against the Celtics than they otherwise would have. Belinelli started a point guard alongside Gordon in the season opener, and Belinelli, a natural two-guard, had trouble getting the Hornets into their sets.
In game No. 2, with Jack back but Gordon out, Hornets coach Monty Williams will most likely opt to have Jack do the majority of the ball-handling and let Belinelli play off the ball. Jack isn't a pure point guard either, though (despite being a product of Georgia Tech, a.k.a. Point Guard U., which produced Stephon Marbury, Kenny Anderson, Travis Best and Mark Price.)
7:30 p.m.: The Celtics take their first look at the Hornets of the post-Chris Paul era on Wednesday night in New Orleans.
That look will not include the Hornets' most exciting new player, guard Eric Gordon. The versatile guard out of Indiana will reportedly miss the game with a bruised right knee.
The most likely candidate to replace Gordon in the starting lineup is Marco Belinelli.
Celtics captain Paul Pierce is out again, as expected, with Sasha Pavlovic listed as the probable starter at the small forward spot for the third time this season. Reserve forward Chris Wilcox is out with a bruised shoulder suffered Tuesday in Miami.
Here are the probable starting lineups for the game at the New Orleans Arena:
8 a.m. ET: Through two games, the Celtics have mounted comebacks from a 10-point and a 15-point halftime deficit only to fall short at the end. They are 0-2 for their trouble, and take on a rejuvenated Hornets team Wednesday night in New Orleans.
The Celtics will need another strong showing from Rajon Rondo, as Paul Pierce is expected to miss his third game with a sore right heel. Newly signed Mickael Pietrus is not likely to play either as he may need as many as 10 days to work into playing shape after offseason knee surgery.
No other NBA franchise faces as many challenges as the Hornets do on and off the court. The Chris Paul trade, and the three voided deals that preceded it, made the team a running joke, and as long as the league retains ownership of the team it will be difficult to mount a legitimate rebuilding process.
The Hornets do have some impact players, though, led by guard Eric Gordon. The 23-year-old played a big role in the Hornets' one-point win over Phoenix in their opener, and he could keep up the Celtics' habit of being torched by explosive guards and wing players.
Join us for updates during the game, which is scheduled for an 8 p.m. ET start.
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