Boston Celtics at Charlotte Hornets Preview
The Boston Celtics will travel to Charlotte to play the Hornets in Kemba Walker’s return to the city where he played out the first eight years of his career.
The Celtics come into the matchup at 5-1 with their most recent victory coming on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers (119-113) on Tuesday night. New England’s team currently sits atop the Eastern Conference standings and have signature wins against the Raptors and Bucks. The elephant in the room that nobody has ignored has been the loss of Kyrie Irving and the addition of Walker. The offense for the Celtics looks different. It looks better. There’s more movement away from the ball and on the defensive end, there is more communication. Gordon Hayward looks more comfortable with each game that passes, Jaylen Brown looks like a man out to prove he’s worth the massive extension he signed just before the start of the season and Jayson Tatum is backing up all of his talk about focusing on 3s and drives into the paint.
The Charlotte Hornets haven’t been abysmal! Shocker, right? They haven’t had a signature win against an elite team or even a good team, but they’ve played hard and have had numerous players catch fire from deep. They come into the matchup with the Celtics after a comeback win against the Indiana Pacers (122-120) on Tuesday.
The talk of this matchup will be the Walker/Terry Rozier dynamic, but don’t forget there are plenty of other intriguing players and matchups in this contest.
Time: 7 PM ET
Arena: Spectrum Center, Charlotte, NC
Celtics: Jaylen Brown (Q), Enes Kanter (Q), Daniel Theis (Q), Robert Williams (Q)
Hornets: Nicolas Batum (O), PJ Washington (Q)
Boston Celtics Starting Lineup
Gordon Hayward gave the Celtics one of those games on Tuesday night. Hayward tied a career-high with 39 points. He made all 16 of his 2-point attempts as the Celtics won their fifth straight. Hayward was as aggressive as I’ve seen him since he joined Boston, getting to the basket at will. He seems like a drastically different player from last year, and that’s encouraging.
The rest of the team played well against the Cavs: Kemba Walker had 25 points and eight rebounds, Jayson Tatum added 18 points and two blocks and the rookie, Carson Edwards put up 13 points in only 14 minutes of game action–a very “Edwards” thing to do.
“Certainly, you always felt like he could get a bucket at any time,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He was aggressive going to the basket. He did a good job when guarded by big guys. He did a good job when guarded by small guys.”
Last season was a tough one for the Celtics and their fans; chemistry issues on the court plagued the team during the regular season and culminated in an ugly second-round playoff loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Kyrie Irving bolted for Brooklyn and Al Horford fled to Philadelphia. The Celtics audibled perfectly and brought in Walker on a sign-and-trade deal that sent Terry Rozier to the Hornets. With Walker, whose style of play is a better fit for coach Stevens’ offense, the Celtics still look like a top-three team in the East.
The best part is the fact the Celtic’s defense has been excellent. They’re no. 9 in defensive rating and they only allow 104.7 points per game, which is good for sixth in the NBA. Boston is allowing the fourth-fewest 3-point attempts in the league (34.7) where teams are shooting 35 percent. They also allow the fewest 2-point attempts (51.2) where teams are shooting a paltry 48 percent.
The Celtics force teams to use a lot of the shot clock with their switch-heavy defense, so the Hornets playmakers are going to have to be quick and decisive to keep from falling into Boston’s defensive scheme.
Charlotte Hornets Starting Lineup
Devonte’ Graham put in a career-high 35 points in the Hornets game against the Pacers, but it was Bismack Biyombo who turned the game around and sparked Charlotte’s comeback.
“I always say, ‘You gotta stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,’” Biyombo said. “You could tell by the momentum of the game that we were going to need some energy from somebody.”
Biyombo provided all the energy that was needed. He entered the game in the final frame with the Hornets trailing 92-78 and made plays right away. He scored in the paint, blocked shots and made defensive plays at midcourt. Biyombo finished the game with 15 points, six rebounds and two blocks in only 17 minutes.
The Hornets are 4-3, good for sixth in the East at this point. There is still so much season to be played, but maybe the Hornets can keep a .500 record the rest of the way, which is not inconceivable considering the East is wide open after the top three teams. Their team stats are nothing to brag about (20th in offense and 25th in defense) but there are pleasant surprises on the roster. PJ Washington, the rookie out of Kentucky has been stellar; he’s averaging 15.1 points and six rebounds per game on 46 percent shooting from the 3-point line. Another standout player has been Devonte’ Graham. The second-year man out of Kansas is leading the team in scoring with 17.3 points per contest and assists at 6.7.
Key Player Matchups
Terry Rozier vs. Kemba Walker
This is what everyone wants to see. Scary Terry has always played with a chip on his shoulder, for better or worse. Usually for worse, but he’s on a team that’s giving him more than 30 minutes per game on a consistent basis, so I’m guessing he’s happy. The man he replaced, Walker, is fitting right in with the Celtics. In 34 minutes per game, Cardiac Kemba is averaging 26 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists on 42 percent shooting on 3s. He’s still working his way into the offense, but the positives that come with a guard who is in constant motion and a threat to score 25 or more can’t be overstated.
PJ Washington vs. Jayson Tatum
The talk will be on the previous individual matchup I detailed, but this one right here is the one I’m most interested in. PJ Washington got off to a blistering start–he set the record in 3-point makes in a debut with seven against the Bulls. The 12th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft is a perfect size (6-foot-7, 236 pounds) to match up with Tatum who still struggles with staying balanced when he attacks the rim. Tatum has bought into adjusting his shot selection. The forward out of Duke is getting only 6.3 percent of his points from the midrange–down from 16.3 last season, per NBA.com advanced stats. His dedication to being more efficient has been pleasant to watch. His overall field goal percentage (42 percent) is low because he has struggled closer to the rim (48 percent on shots less than five feet from the basket) but his 3-point shooting has been mesmerizing. Tatum is shooting 41 percent on his catch-and-shoot triples and an unreal 47 percent on his pull-up 3-pointers. Washington is going to have to be physical with Tatum to slow him down.
Devonte’ Graham vs. Marcus Smart
I was tempted to go with a Miles Bridges/Gordon Hayward matchup, but I’m a sucker for watching Marcus Smart play defense. Even if Graham doesn’t start the game, my expectations are that at some point in the game Smart is going to try his hand at slowing down the Hornets leading scorer. Defensive rating for an individual player isn’t a perfect stat, but it’s telling when it comes to Smart because the lineups featuring him tend to post better defensive numbers. His defensive rating through six games is 98.5, which is fourth in the league among players who have played a minimum of 30 minutes a game and have appeared in at least six games this season, per NBA.com advanced stats.
For your daily fantasy picks, Kemba Walker is available for $9.5k on FanDuel. Walker will be playing for more than just the win tonight. He will be playing his former team, that reportedly offered a deal that offended the all-star guard. Expect big numbers from him. His fantasy points are set at 36.5. Jayson Tatum is the other star pickup on the Celtics. Tatum is available for a salary of $8k with expected fantasy points set at 32.6.
Devonte’ Graham is a solid pickup, especially if his start to the season isn’t a fluke. He’s available for $6.2k with his expected points set at 27.6.
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