Winners of three in a row and owners of the NBA’s best record, the Boston Celtics took the court against the 6-14 Charlotte Hornets with just about as much confidence as a team could have in a single game. The result was far from a let-down game, as the Celtics piled up 45 points in a remarkable first quarter, and cruised to a comfortable win over the Hornets, 140-105.
Jayson Tatum (ankle) returned to play and put up a game-high 35 points in seemingly effortless fashion, while Marcus Smart added 22 points and 15 assists and Malcolm Brogdon tacked on 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting, helping the Celtics overcome the absence of Jaylen Brown (neck) and Al Horford (back). On the other side, the Hornets lacked the services of old friends Gordon Hayward (shoulder) and Terry Rozier (non-COVID illness), but their relatively efficient scoring attack (49% FG, 39% 3PT) couldn’t keep pace with the Boston onslaught.
With Horford and Brown sidelined, Blake Griffin received another spot start opportunity, and he made his presence felt early in the first quarter. He opened the scoring for the evening with a three-pointer 17 seconds into the game, and followed it up with a few nice passes and a pair of offensive rebounds. A spry appearance for the seldom-used veteran!
Griffin’s hot start proved to be a harbinger for how the first quarter was going to go for the Celtics. They simply couldn’t miss. There was no shortage of absurd first quarter stats in this game — pick your favorite. Was it the 10 made three-pointers? Tatum’s 16 points? Smart’s eight assists in 10 minutes?
The first quarter ended, and eventually, so too did the shenanigans. There were still three more quarters of basketball to be played, after all. Having been punched in the mouth in the first quarter, the Hornets mustered a response. They put together a modest 16-9 rally across the early minutes of the second quarter, cutting the Boston lead back under 20 points. On the whole, Charlotte hung 36 points on the Celtics in the second quarter… but the Celtics compiled 33 of their own, and entered the halftime break with a 23-point lead, 78-55.
Oh, and Blake Griffin dunked! Twice!
The Boston lead surged past the 30-point threshold midway through the third quarter, and since the stakes were so low, let’s take a moment to talk about Tatum. This was a “takeover” game for the MVP candidate, who took his shots early and often, bending the Hornets to his will in the process. The three-point shot wasn’t entirely there (4-of-14 from deep), but he absolutely dominated Charlotte inside the arc, shooting 11-of-14 on two-pointers and making it look easy in the process.
The Celtics recorded their second 40+ quarter of the night in the third, outscoring the Hornets 43-27 en route to a 39-point lead entering the final frame. Tatum and Smart did not see the court in the fourth quarter, which should say just about all that needs to be said about this game’s finale. The Boston Celtics are now 17-4.
Next up, the Celtics’ homestand will continue, as they host the first of two consecutive home games against the Miami Heat, this Wednesday at 7:30 PM EST on NBA TV.