Celtics-Hornets Live: Robin Lopez, Al-Farouq Aminu Give C’s Fits in Paint as New Orleans Wins 90-78

Rajon RondoFinal, Hornets 90-78: The Celtics had everything going for them. They had a six-game winning streak, a mostly healthy roster and an inexperienced opponent playing its second game in two nights. Yet the Celtics never really showed up, putting forth a shoddy defensive effort against the Hornets.

Sure, the Hornets are not the walkovers the Celtics’ previous opponent, the Bobcats, were. New Orleans has now won six of its last seven games and has a creative point guard in Greivis Vasquez to go along with a hard-working and athletic frontcourt, anchored by rookie Anthony Davis.

But Kevin Garnett, who led the Celtics with 15 points, and the Celtics really should have come with more in this one. They allowed four of the five starters for New Orleans to score in double figures and were outscored in the paint 48-32. They were also outrebounded by double digits while Vasquez, who averages 4.4 rebounds per game, hauled down 11 boards.

Fourth quarter, 2:35, Hornets 82-71: Welcome to the Greivis Vasquez Show.

The Hornets point guard, who has only assumed starting duties this season due to Eric Gordon’s persistent injuries, entered the fourth quarter with seven points on 3-for-11 shooting. He now has 15 points, as well as 10 rebounds. If he were anywhere near his season averaged of 9.1 assists per game — so far he only has four — he would be stalking a triple-double.

Doesn’t he know that’s Rondo’s job, and Rondo’s job only?

Fourth quarter, 5:31, Hornets 77-71: Greivis Vasquez appears to have figured out Bradley, at least a little. The Hornets point guard got off to a slow start shooting the ball, but he has gotten past the best perimeter defender in the game with ease twice in this quarter. On top of that, he deked Lee off a screen for a layup earlier in the quarter to help extend New Orleans’ lead.

Fourth quarter, 7:07, Hornets 74-67: Courtney Lee took the ball to the hoop for what seemed like the first time in forever for a Celtics player. Predictably, he missed.

Not content with an up-and-down defense, the Celtics went stagnant on offense as well to begin the fourth quarter. Every one of their shots, save Lee’s whirling layup attempt that caught the front of the rim, was a jumper. There was nothing going to the hoop and no secondary effort. The Celtics need their defense to lead to offense if they want a chance to beat these athletic young Hornets.

End of third quarter, Hornets: Austin Rivers’ honeymoon with Boston fans officially is over. After Pierce banked in a short jumper to pull the Celtics within four points with 3.8 seconds left in the quarter, Rivers dashed downcourt and drew a foul with 0.4 seconds on the clock.

Rivers was greeted with boos and jeers as he his split the free throws to bring to an end 12 disappointing minutes for the Celtics. They have a lot of work to do defensively in the final quarter if they want to avoid undoing all the good will they built with their six-game win streak.

Third quarter, 4:17, Hornets 61-54: The Celtics’ defense continues to resemble Manti Te’o’s girlfriend: nonexistent.

OK, so that joke was low-hanging fruit. Anyway, Pierce and Terry hit shots to pull Boston within seven points, which brought cheers from the crowd. But all the scoring in the world is irrelevant if the Celtics do not figure out a way to stop the Hornets. Vasquez, who really is a treat to watch running the pick and roll, has been effective running the offense, even if he is just 2-for-7 from the field.

Third quarter, 8:47, Hornets 52-43: New Orleans is coming off a back-to-back after winning in Philadelphia on Tuesday, but from the looks of this one, you would think the Celtics are playing for the second night in a row. Davis, Lopez and Aminu lived at the rim, getting easy buckets off lob passes or putbacks, or just forcing the action by going to the hoop for passes from Vasquez.

Halftime, Hornets 44-43: Robin Lopez, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jason Smith might never have had more fun in a first half.

The Hornets’ front line trio bullied the Celtics down low and crashed the offensive glass en route to 24 points combined. As a team, New Orleans piled up 24 points in the paint and scored eight second-chance points. Garnett was fine defensively, as usual, but the lack of help in the post left him unable to stop the dunks and putbacks.

Garnett and Bass each got off to hot starts on offense and share the team lead with nine points. Rondo effectively pushed the pace once the Celtics fell behind and entered intermission with seven points and five assists.

Pierce could shoot better — he was 2-for-6 from the field in his 16 minutes of action — but mostly the Celtics just need to shore up their interior defense to better New Orleans in the second half.

Second quarter, 2:53, Hornets 38-36: Complacency set in early for the Celtics in Monday’s win over the Bobcats, and it set in even earlier here against the Hornets. Now it is up to Rondo, Pierce and the rest to get this game back in working order.

Doc did away with being a nice dad and threw Bradley on Austin Rivers, and the result was predictable. Garnett hit a jumper and Rondo stole the ball and raced down the floor for an and-one reverse layup to make the Hornets sweat.

Second quarter, 6:20, Hornets 33-32: The Celtics may have been the victims of one of the most boneheaded calls in NBA history. After Greivis Vasquez clearly deflected a pass by Lee out of bounds, getting both hands and possibly his head on the ball in the process, the officials inexplicably awarded the ball to the Hornets.

Still, that was no excuse for the inconsistency that followed for Boston. Vasquez, Rivers and Smith scored consecutive baskets to pull the Hornets ahead for the first time in the game. Smith punctuated the run with a dunk.

Second quarter, 9:07, Celtics 29-22: Say this for the Hornets’ big men: They know their personnel. When Austin Rivers shoots, Jason Smith and company sprint to the rim, anticipating an offensive rebound opportunity. Smith got a basket in just such fashion by tipping home an errant shot by Rivers, who has missed two off-balance shots since his first make.

End of first quarter, Celtics 25-20: Trying to go without Garnett for the final seven minutes of the first quarter almost cost the Celtics. Boston saw its 11-point lead shrink to five as a result of some uneven offense by its bench and a couple of steady possessions by the Hornets’ reserves.

Austin Rivers, who we mentioned has struggled offensively thus far this season, hit his first shot on a running bank shot to help get New Orleans back into the game.

First quarter, 2:06, Celtics 21-12: Austin Rivers made his highly anticipated appearance, and his dad went easy on him by subbing out Bradley and sticking Terry on him defensively.

Doc going easy on his kid was not the highlight of the first 10 minutes, however. Brandon Bass’ inspired play might have been. The power forward, who has struggled of late as Jared Sullinger cuts into his playing time, had two tough buckets and a steal early.

First quarter, 5:38, Celtics 14-8: And the first guard off the bench for New Orleans is… Xavier Henry.

OK, so Austin Rivers will have to wait to see how the TD Garden crowd — many of whom loudly advocated for their Celtics to draft him last June — receives him. In the meantime, his teammates are having a tough time figuring out his dad’s club. The Hornets have missed seven of their first 10 shots and passed their way into three relatively easy steals by the Celtics.

Jason Terry provided a moment of levity on the bench when he attempted to bump the ball back inbounds as it bounced toward the corner. Nice try, Jet, but the officials noticed.

7:58 p.m.: For those wondering, here are the three combinations of fathers and sons who previously faced each other as coach and player, respectively:

Butch van Breda Kolff and Jan van Breda Kolff
George Karl and Coby Karl
Mike Dunleavy and Mike Dunleavy Jr.

7:35 p.m.: Be careful disparaging anyone with the name Rivers if you are at the TD Garden. In fact, you may want to shy away from criticizing the bodies of water that bear that name, too, just to avoid any confusion.

The building is filled with Riverses for the Celtics’ matchup with the Hornets, according to the Celtics coach. Everyone in the Rivers clan is on hand to watch Doc Rivers lead Boston against the Hornets, who count rookie Austin Rivers among their numbers.

At least one member of the Rivers family will have no divided loyalties, though. Mama Rivers — also known as Kristen — will be rooting hard for her son, according to the younger Rivers.

“She loves me more than him,” Austin Rivers joked.

Maybe so, Austin, but all the mother’s love in the world probably will not save you from the defensive pressure of Avery Bradley.

7:20 p.m.: When Doc Rivers entered the NBA as a rookie with the Atlanta Hawks in 1983, even after a standout college career at Marquette and receiving McDonald’s All-American recognition at Proviso East High School, he has a feeling most fans did not know his name. That anonymity made it somewhat easier for Rivers to ease into his role as the Hawks’ starting point guard.

His son Austin has not had the same luxury. Whereas Doc Rivers could focus on basketball and eventually end up in an All-Star game, Austin Rivers has been famous since his sophomore year of high school, when he emerged as one of the top amateur players in the country.

“You’re tested far more now,” Doc Rivers said. “Not only on the floor but off the floor, with articles written about you — in a good way and a bad way. It’s just way too much. But that’s what it is.”

As Doc Rivers noted, the good comes with the bad. The hoopla that surrounded Austin Rivers at Winter Park High and Duke has turned to scrutiny, as the No. 10 pick in last summer’s NBA draft has had a difficult rookie campaign. Still, he addressed his struggles like a veteran prior to Wednesday’s game.

“It’s different in college or high school or overseas, wherever, where if you play one bad game you have three or four days or a week to prepare again,” Austin Rivers said. “Here, you could have five games in a row in, like, seven days, and you don’t play well. That’s been the case in the last week and a half, two weeks. I haven’t played my best. It is what it is. It happens to the best of us. It happens to everybody, and right now it’s happening to me.”

Austin Rivers began the season as New Orleans’ starting two-guard, but as his scoring average and shooting percentage has dipped, his playing time has decreased. He has not started since Jan. 5 and is expected to come off the bench again against the Celtics.

In injury news, Chris Wilcox is “more available” for this game than he was on Monday, when he dressed against the Bobcats, but Doc Rivers would still like to give the center as much time as possible to recover from a sprained right thumb.

The projected starters appear below.

Hornets
Robin Lopez
Anthony Davis
Al-Farouq Aminu
Roger Mason
Greivis Vasquez

Celtics
Kevin Garnett
Brandon Bass
Paul Pierce
Avery Bradley
Rajon Rondo

12 p.m. ET: It is safe to say that Austin Rivers never envisioned his rookie year being like this. The New Orleans combo guard has had one of the roughest first seasons in memory for a lottery pick, averaging 6.2 points per game while shooting just 32.8 percent from the field. The 10th pick in the June draft has scored one whole point in his last five games and has made only three field goals since Dec. 28.

That said, expect a few hugs to come Rivers’ way when the Hornets (12-26) visit the Celtics (20-17). Celtics coach Doc Rivers will be leading his troops against a team that includes his son for the first time.

The Celtics have far more important things to worry about than their coach’s underachieving offspring. They have won their last six games, and an undefeated homestand is very much within their reach. This will be their second straight game that falls under the category of matchups they “should” win, after Monday’s victory over the Bobcats.

Join us for updates and analysis from the TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 8 p.m. ET.

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