The Celtics have not done a whole lot of losing in the last two months, but those losses now include two to the Bobcats, one to the Blazers and one to the Hornets. The Celtics were swept by the Hornets, the last-place team in the Southwest Division, in the two-game season series. That is not good.
Jeff Green had 13 points in the first half but went scoreless the rest of the way as the Celtics went into the tank as a team after halftime. They shot 32 percent and were outrebounded 30-12 in the second half, while Ryan Anderson scored 14 of his 21 points after the break.
Paul Pierce made a valiant effort to salvage a win for the Celtics, scoring a personal 9-3 run late in the fourth quarter (which was only interrupted by an Anderson 3-pointer). But the Celtics once again let an overmatched team hang around, and when it came down to one or two plays, that team was able to steal a win.
Fourth quarter, :00.3, Hornets 87-86: Basket stands. Celtics are in a bad spot.
Fourth quarter, :00.3, Hornets 87-86: Oh, good. Another goaltending controversy. We need another of those.
The Hornets went for the win, and Bradley played tight defense on Gordon. But Gordon got a step and beat Bradley to the cup, forcing Garnett to help. Gordon missed his bank shot, but Davis was able to come over the top for a tip-in. The officials are reviewing whether Davis interfered before the ball left the cylinder.
Fourth quarter, :15.6, Celtics 86-85: Iso-Paul did not work this time. Pierce got a mismatch and tried to back down Gordon, but he dribbled into the trees and his jumper try was long. The Hornets have a shot to steal one and give the Celtics their second straight loss.
Fourth quarter, :35.5, Celtics 86-85: Pierce has played out of his mind in this quarter, but he made a bad, bad play by fouling Anderson on a corner three attempt.
Anderson, a good foul shooter, went to the line and knocked down two of three to pull New Orleans within a point. The Celtics have a chance to take back control, something they have not been good at doing in this game.
Fourth quarter, :40.6, Celtics 86-83: He does not get as much credit for it as Bradley, but Brandon Bass plays really hard. He may not always do the right thing, but he does it decisively and with effort.
Bass, playing in his home state, came up with a big defensive play to knock it away from Lopez, then tipped in his own miss on offense. On the next possession, he kept the play alive by tipping out an offensive rebound, although the Celtics did not convert.
Rivers has gone a long time with Crawford in the clutch, which is an odd choice. Crawford has not really been very good at either end apart from a lucky scoop shot.
Fourth quarter, 2:35, Celtics 84-81: Pierce gets credit for capitalizing on the Hornets’ mistakes, but Al-Farouq Aminu gets a massive assist.
Aminu made a weird play to come into the backcourt to impede his own point guard’s progress, forcing Vasquez to lose the ball. When Aminu gathered it, he then tossed it off-target for Bradley to pick off. It resulted in a fastbreak opportunity for Pierce, who has the Celtics’ last nine points.
Pierce is on his own 9-3 run, draining a contested three to push Boston ahead.
Fourth quarter, 5:24, Hornets 78-73: The Hall of Famers are doing their best to keep from suffering another second-half collapse. The Celtics have been outscored 33-16 in the second half, but Pierce and Garnett responded with back-to-back buckets after the Hornets had taken a nine-point lead, their largest of the game.
Fourth quarter, 8:36, Hornets 72-69: Boston fans are used to guys named Brian Roberts being a thorn in their side. This time, it is not an infielder for the Orioles but a pesky guard for the Hornets.
Roberts easily shed Crawford, who is playing terribly on both ends, to give the Hornets their first lead since the 9:13 mark of the first quarter. Then he drained a three to extend it to five. Garnett answered with one of his automatic turnaround jumpers, but the Celtics have to get to work to avoid a letdown.
End of third quarter, game tied 67-67: This game is tied, even if the Hornets seem to be doing everything in their power not to do so.
The Hornets went to the line three straight times and only managed to even it up after holding a three-point deficit. In the last three minutes of the quarter, they went 5-for-8 from the stripe, with an elbow jumper by Lee helping the Celtic at least keep it knotted up. If the Hornets just converted their free throws, they would be heading into the final 12 minutes with a lead.
By the way, Green has not scored in the second half.
Third quarter, 2:47, Celtics 65-62: Somebody should probably tell the Celtics they are not on national television. As unfortunate as it is, officials call games differently under the bright lights of ESPN, ABC or TNT. They want to be seen on the big stage, too, just like the players.
This is a Wednesday night game in New Orleans, though. Nobody except diehard Celtics and Hornets fans are watching. The refs are going to swallow their whistles, so the Celtics need to stop looking for a foul every time they draw contact. While the Celtics are preoccupied with the fouls the referees aren’t calling, the Hornets have worked their way back into the game.
If anything, the Celtics have gotten some help from the zebras. Somehow, veteran Joey Crawford missed Green’s block on Ryan Anderson’s 3-point attempt and awarded possession to the Celtics after Anderson’s shot caromed off the bottom of the backboard. Nobody is more disappointed that this game isn’t nationally televised than Crawford. Nobody.
Third quarter, 7:52, Celtics 60-54: If you do not know about Monty Williams, you should. Williams, who played for Rivers in Orlando, is one of the league’s brighter young coaches.
Williams showed why with an adjustment at halftime. Rather than have Vasquez try to initiate offense from the top of the key, which was not going so well for the Hornets, Vasquez is now in the post and Gordon is playing the point guard role. That, plus some shoddy shot-taking by the Celtics, has helped the Hornets push their offensive action closer to the hoop and slice into the Celtics’ lead.
Halftime, Celtics 55-45: Vasquez will not be sending Bradley a Christmas card. The Hornets point guard is having trouble with Bradley’s on-ball pressure, but unlike some guys (like Sebastian Telfair), Vasquez so far has kept a cool head. He turned the corner on Bradley, who had knocked the ball out of his hands and out of bounds a few seconds earlier, for a running layup to give him 10 points.
Still, Vasquez has not received much help. The Celtics’ defense has a lot to do with that. The Celtics have forced 12 turnovers and are defending the 3-point line well, as usual, holding New Orleans to 3-for-10 from beyond the arc.
The Celtics, by contrast, are clicking. They are shooting 60 percent from the field because they are finding good shots and exploiting every driving lane the Hornets give them — not just knocking down some impossible shots, as they did for 3 1/2 quarters on Monday. Garnett, Green and Pierce are all in double figures, with Garnett leading the way with 14 points. Two guys — Pierce and Bradley — have four assists each. Most importantly, given the Celtics’ 48-33 rebounding disadvantage last time they played, the Celtics have a slight edge on the glass, 16-15.
Second quarter, 5:57, Celtics 44-35: The Celtics’ ball movement is as crisp as it has been all season, before or after Rajon Rondo’s injury. They have 11 assists on 17 field goals as the ball is simply finding the open man.
Four- and five-pass possessions have not been unusual for Boston. Garnett, Pierce and Terry all passed up good, but not great, looks before finding Lee in the corner. Lee had forever and a day to catch the ball, gather and drain the three.
Second quarter, 7:25, Celtics 37-35: Brian Roberts, the rookie point guard out of Dayton, probably was not featured very prominently in the scouting report. As we mentioned, Vasquez is a strong point guard, particularly operating the pick and roll, and Gordon is as good a combo guard as there is.
Roberts has gotten New Orleans back into this game, though. He got to the line for a pair of free throws, then helped open Lou Amundson for a dunk. He kept it going with a bouncing, rattling 3-pointer to make it a two-point game.
Second quarter, 8:51, Celtics 35-26: The Celtics tend to give up more foul shots than they earn, but it looks like they are trying to undo that. The are 8-for-8 from the foul line, compared to 5-for-6 from the Hornets, with Green attacking the basket consistently. He finally missed a shot from the field, but he is still a flawless 4-for-4 from the line.
End of first quarter, Celtics 31-22: A big game is one thing, but following up a big game with another solid performance is the stuff of All-Stars. Green has not fallen into the trap of going cold in the next game after a breakout performance. He is 4-for-4 from the field as everyone knows he is going right, yet he still goes right and gets to the rim regardless. Yes, the Hornets won their meeting with the Celtics earlier in the year, but the Celtics did not have this version of Green yet.
Green, who had just four points in the Jan. 16 loss in Boston, already has close to three times that amount.
First quarter, 2:24, Celtics 23-16: The Pierce-Green combo gave Miami all sorts of trouble, so it is no surprise they are having even more success against a greatly inferior opponent. After Green threw down a baseline dunk to make himself a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor, he and Pierce are now 5-for-7 combined from the field. The Celtics are the aggressors despite playing with a much smaller lineup than New Orleans, leading 12-8 on points in the paint.
First quarter, 5:32, Celtics 15-7: Whatever Jeff Green did prior to Monday’s game, he apparently did not mess with success. The guy who put up a career-high 43 points two days ago has hit his first two shots here, making the Hornets pay for trying to cover him with true power forwards.
Keep an eye on Lopez and Davis. It will be a bit tougher for them to hit the glass as aggressively as they would have been able to if Garnett were out, but the Hornets can be a surprisingly effective rebounding team at times. The Celtics, as we know, are not.
6:27 p.m.: Kevin Garnett seems to be feeling better, so the Celtics must be, too.
Garnett missed the last two games with a strained lower left adductor (some muscle in his thigh, in non-doctor-speak) and a flu-like illness. Celtics coach Doc Rivers told reporters during the team’s shootaround Wednesday morning that Garnett will play in New Orleans.
This is a crucial addition for the Celtics, obviously, but especially against the Hornets. New Orleans is surprisingly stout up front, with Anthony Davis and Robin Lopez giving opponents all they can handle around the hoop.
The Celtics can also use Garnett’s expertise defending the pick-and-roll against Greivis Vasquez, who has emerged as one of the best pick-and-roll point guards around.
The projected starters appear below.
8 a.m. ET: Jeff Green probably will not score 43 points again, so we can safely put aside that possibility now. The biggest question entering this game, then, is whether Kevin Garnett will play.
The Big Ticket missed the last two games, including Monday’s two-point loss to the Heat, with a thigh injury and an illness. Garnett reportedly made the trip to New Orleans, so he should be available if he feels healthy. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Garnett would have played through the thigh injury against the Heat had he not been sick.
The Celtics (36-30) sure could use him against the Hornets (22-46), even if the Bugs come in having lost seven of their last eight. Anthony Davis may have fallen far behind Damian Lillard in the Rookie of the Year race, but Davis is still an impressive young big man who could give the Celtics trouble. One player the Celtics will not have to worry about, unfortunately, is Austin Rivers. The son of the Boston coach is out for the rest of the season with a broken hand, ending a disappointing rookie campaign for the combo guard out of Duke.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8 p.m. ET.