The Boston Celtics had the perfect set-up: They were tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed with just three games to go, and home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs was within their grasp.
But then they collapsed late in Saturday’s loss to the Hawks. And it only got worse Monday against the Charlotte Hornets.
The Hornets went on a 31-3 run late in the second quarter and cruised to a 114-100 win at TD Garden. With the loss, the Celtics (47-34) no longer can pass the Hawks for the No. 3 seed, and if the season ended today, they would be on the road to start the playoffs as the No. 5 seed.
Former Harvard star Jeremy Lin led all scorers with 25 points in his triumphant return to Boston. Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley both led the C’s with 17 points.
Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger
BACK AND FORTH THEY GO
The Hornets took an early 10-4 lead after starting hot from the field, but the Celtics responded immediately with eight straight points to take a 12-11 lead before the game’s first commercial break. That trend continued after the timeout, although this time in Charlotte’s favor, as the Hornets scored eight straight points of their own to take an 18-12 lead.
The teams mostly traded baskets the rest of the quarter, with a slight edge going to Boston. The Celtics were 4-of-8 from 3-point range in the frame, and three of those combined makes coming from from Kelly Olynyk and Bradley (two) in the closing minutes, during which built Boston a 28-24 advantage heading into the second quarter.
Bradley led the way with 11 first-quarter points, and the Celtics as a whole shot 50 percent from the field in the frame.
Lin became a household name thanks to his memorable run with the New York Knicks, but he was draining impressive shots in Boston long before that. The former Harvard star (and Boston College destroyer) returned to Boston on Monday with the Hornets, and he put on quite the show in the first half with 21 points, four steals and four rebounds off the bench.
The Celtics only made one basket in the final 9:18 of the second quarter, and Lin and the Hornets took advantage with a 31-3 run to close out the half. That four-point lead suddenly was a 22-point deficit for the C’s.
The third quarter wasn’t as bad as the second was for the Celtics, but the C’s failed to put any dent into the Hornets’ seemingly insurmountable lead.
The Hornets’ lead grew to 94-72 by the end of the frame, thanks in large part to Lin, Marvin Williams, Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, who all reached double digits prior to the final 12 minutes of the contest.
NO LATE MAGIC
Boston showed slight signs of life in the final 12 minutes, but never enough to make Charlotte sweat.
Perhaps the most notable part of the fourth quarter was who was on the court for the C’s. With potential home-court advantage at stake, R.J. Hunter and Jonas Jerebko were on the floor, while Thomas cheered on his teammates from the bench.
It was just that kind of night for the C’s.
The Celtics close out the regular season at home Wednesday against the Miami Heat with tip-off at TD Garden at 8 p.m. ET. Despite the recent downward trend for the C’s, they’ll clinch the No. 4 seed with a win against the Heat.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin (7) drives to the basket past Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley